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Going beyond goo goo

Here's a great perspective from one speech-language pathologist who admits that she talks "baby talk" to babies. It might be really important for them.
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What is baby talk?

It's time to confess. I'm a speech-language pathologist who talks "baby talk" to babies. And not only do I enjoy doing so, I maintain that it's good for them.

Baby talk refers to standard vocabulary words that have been modified by grownups to make them easier for Baby to say. They contain easier sounds, shorter syllables and lots of repetition. For example, the baby talk word for stomach is "tum-tum," for good night, "nightie-night," for urinate, "pee-pee" and so on.

In addition to using different words with babies, it's natural for adults to exaggerate pitch, slow the pace, and simplify sentence structure. When a baby enters the room, note how your pitch gets higher and you begin talking silly. This is an instinctive way of communicating with babies, and it makes learning to talk fun for grownups and babies alike.

Baby talk is a variation of adult language, invented by adults and passed on to each generation of babies; its sole purpose being to teach children to talk.

The science of baby talk

Peter Farb, a linguist and anthropologist, carried out a fascinating study about baby talk. He researched the vocabulary of six very different languages — English and Spanish, two Asian languages, Comanche, and the language of a non-literate community in Siberia.

He discovered that every one of these languages had a baby talk vocabulary. While the actual baby talk words differed, of course, from culture to culture, the themes were amazingly similar.

In all languages studied, the baby-talk words referred to eating, sleeping, toileting, good and bad behavior, animal names and terms for close relatives. These are the types of words that are most important in the life of every baby.

My own experience

When my daughter, Isabel, was just beginning to talk, there were many things she wanted to say but couldn't, because the words she needed contained consonant sounds that were too difficult.

For example, at 18 months, one of her favorite treats was popcorn, but she couldn't yet produce the "kuh" sound. Remembering that one of the rules of creating a baby talk word is to simplify, I began to call popcorn "pop-pop." She loved this new word that she could pronounce, and the power it gave her to get what she wanted.

Often Isabel would take the lead in inventing a baby-talk word. As she turned two, she referred to our pet cat "Smokey" as "Mo." A few months later, she began to call him "Mokey" and then finally "Smokey" as she matured and was able to pronounce more difficult sounds. Baby talk seemed to help her progress naturally from one speech stage to the next.

There are many benefits to the time-honored tradition of speaking baby-talk to children. Babies get practice with simple sounds and short syllables as well as lots of opportunity for repetition. Don't miss out on using these special words with your baby.

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  • Rated 0 out of 5 by 11reviewers.
    Rated 0 out of 5 by This was a great article! I was told by a woman I work with not to use baby talk. I don't know how I would get through my day without it! Even my husband has caught on! February 17, 2014
    Rated 0 out of 5 Being a Speech Pathologist myself, I found this article very well written! Thanks for breaking down the reasons for "motherese" and baby talk! August 27, 2013
    Rated 0 out of 5 by I refuse to think any type of talking including "baby talk" is bad for a child. It shows you are interacting with your child and they learn how to pronounce words, understand facial expressions and body language, and learn about tone of voice. As an educator, I can easily spot which children have parents to talk and interact with them. For example, some parents think their child knows their ABCs if they can recite the song. Knowing your ABCs is knowing what the letter looks like, the sound it makes and the order. July 8, 2013
    Rated 0 out of 5 by I had always heard that baby talk was bad. Babbling incoherently didn't seem like a great idea to me, but now that I'm a mother I see the sense in it. Making language easier for baby to understand and repeat helps him to grasp on to language quicker and join in the conversation. November 27, 2012
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