Talking to Babies

We often do strange things with language. Amongst the strangest must be how grown adults talk to babies. We say: “Hello there” or “Aren´t you gorgeous?” or even “What´s your name?”, despite knowing we could not possibly get a response. And we don´t talk to them as we do normally.

We speak in a melodic way, going from a high pitch to a low one, exaggerating enunciation, and repeating ourselves a lot. This is what is usually called baby-talk, and it comes to us naturally in any given language. So naturally in fact, we even use it when talking to our pets: “Aren´t you a cute doggie?”.

Apart from our conversations with babies, we have conversations with all sorts of things all the time. We talk to our cars, our houseplants, our computers (not always the nicest language in those conversations!) and even ourselves. Children can talk to their toys for hours on end, imitating, often quite embarrassingly for their parents, the conversational styles of the adults around them when doing so (ever overheard a child curse in perfect context?). But we do not goo- goo-gaa in these one-sided conversations. So why does it with the smallest humans?

It definitely gets their attention, but there is much more to it. It has been proven that the high pitches and swaying melodies of our short, repeated phrases are received more easily by babies and are the best way to induct them into a language. So, in a way we are all instinctive language teachers!

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