Features of Child-Directed Speech

part one | part two


A number of studies conducted with small children and their caregivers have shown that the language traits that characterize child-directed speech tend to facilitate the acquisition of language.

toddlerwithdressCaregivers exhibit a unique type of speaking that linguists have referred to as child-directed speech, motherese, caregiver speech, or, more casually, baby talk. This speech has many unique characteristics that distinguish it from adult-directed speech:

Higher pitch, greater range of frequencies, slower rate of speech, clearer enunciation, emphasis on one or two words in a sentence, and special pronunciations of individual words.

LEXICAL FEATURES: Substitutions, diminutives, semantically inappropriate words, and use of child’s nonce forms.

SYNTACTIC FEATURES: Use of nouns in lieu of pronouns, use of plural pronouns in place of singular, intentional ungrammatical usage, more grammatically correct usage, more grammatically simple phrases, and shorter phrases.

CONVERSATIONAL FEATURES: More restricted topics, more repetitions of own utterances, more questions, fewer declaratives, more deictic declaratives, provision of both questions and answers by adult, and repetitions, expansions, recasts of child’s utterances
(Baron 22).

Children start their lives without language and are faced with the challenge of emerging into a world in which they cannot effectively communicate. From the time a child is born, however, she will begin to associate what happens around her with meaning. As time passes, she will begin to associate “unknown verbal forms to known meanings” (Ninio and Wheeler 196).

However, at the start of her language development process, she will be unable to understand abstract concepts and will have to rely on current and familiar concepts. “[M]otherese is a ‘here and now’ language, one that traffics in present dogs and ducks rather than Christmases past and absent cats” (Gleitman, et al 55).

(Continue to part two)

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This site has been created as a repurposing project for Illinois State University’s English 351 “Hypertext” course. In this course, I was assigned to create a website using a text I had previously written. I chose to use my research paper, “Caregivers and Language Acquisition” from a linguistics course I took in the fall of 2002.