Dr. Barbora Skarabela: The Role of Baby-Talk Words
Dr. Barbora Skarabela, a linguist at the University of Edinburgh, on the role of baby-talk words in early language learning.
My name is Barbora Skarabela. I'm a linguist. I work at the University of Edinburgh, where I'm part of a consortium of researchers working on Child Development called Wee Science. I'm currently working on a project that is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, where we are looking at the role of baby-talk words in early childhood, in early language learning. Baby-talk words are sort of special words that some adults use when they talk to infants and young children. These are words like tummy instead of stomach, bunny instead of rabbit and choo-choo instead of train. And the question is why do we use these words? Are they harmful? Many parents are concerned that they are harmful and they may slow down children's language development. What our studies show is that baby-talk like words are easier to detect in fluent speech in nine-month-old infants. It also turns out that eighteen-month-olds can learn baby-talk words faster than words that have different types of phonological structures. So to us, this suggests that baby-talk words are not harmful and parents can relax and enjoy interacting with their children using baby-talk words as well as their adult alternatives and this idea kind of fits in well with other research that shows that there are many benefits to the types of accommodations that adults apply when they're speaking to young infants. So infant-directed speech, including baby-talk words, are one of many cultural activities that will help out our children in language development, activities including singing, rhyming and reading books.