What is Parentese/ Motherese?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines motherese as the simple form of language mothers often use when talking to their babies. Over the years the term has encompassed fathers renaming it to parentese. How parents, caregivers and pediatric providers communicate with infants and later toddlers is strongly associated with the child’s language development. Years prior it was believed that parentese (this innate way we speak to our young) was detrimental. Thankfully, that absurdity (in my opinion) was proven to be wrong a countless number of times! Since my studies with pediatric language in late 1990s and early 2000s, parentese has always been encouraged. However, please keep in mind that, I am speaking to the difference in voicing and inflection. I am not referring to adults using nonsensical words with toddlers. Big difference!
Why does parentese facilitate language development?
Motherese is a special kind of method to communicate with your baby and it involves distinctive modifications in speech. These include speaking to the babies using upbeat tones, using facial gestures, raising the pitch a little bit, slowing down the rate of speech, and exaggerating the main syllable. By producing this exaggerated, animated speech our children can more easily discern syllables from words, and words from phases. Parentese is very “eye catching” to our children; hence helping improve their attention, expanding their vocabulary (from the words you produce), promotes conversational turn taking skills, caregiver or parent/baby bond for emotional well-being, and fine motor development. Speech production is a fine motor skill!
have found that children (infants and toddlers) who were exposed to parentese had the following outcomes (C.T., 2020):
- Early Talkers
- It helps your child grasp the complexities of language sooner. According to the study, it helps babies to segment a huge stream of words into the building blocks of language
- Sharper Brain
- As motherese stimulates the brain of the baby, it touches upon the parts of the brain responsible for language development and motor development. Even when infants are simply listening to motherese, there is distinct activation in the motor areas of the brain. Your baby’s brain is engaged in trying to talk back right from the beginning. This fosters brain development at a faster speed
- More Social
- It helps your child connect with the world around, thus building social skills
So, my dear fellow parents do NOT hold back! Use your natural abilities of parentese and exaggerated animation. Our children need it!
Michelle L. Saltarrelli, AuD,CCC-A/SLP
C, T. (2020, December 18). What is Motherese, and How Does It Help Build Your Baby’s Brain? First Cry Parenting. https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/experts-reveal-how-to-use-motherese-to-build-your-babys-brain-help-him-talk-sooner/
Ferjan Ramírez, N., Lytle, S. R., & Kuhl, P. K. (2020). Parent coaching increases conversational turns and advances infant language development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(7), 3484–3491. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1921653117