Why Talk Baby Talk?

We just can’t help it. When we’re face-to-face with a baby, our voices go up, our words slow down and—no matter how silly we sound—we talk baby talk! Sometimes called “parentese,” the way adults speak to babies is universal, and it appears to be beneficial to language learning.

We aren’t talking about the kind of baby talk that involves making up words, just because they rhyme: 'fuzzy-wazzy,' for example. We’re referring to the sing-song, happy-sounding, simple, exaggerated, drawn-out words parents say to babies: 'I seeeee you ...', 'you have a doggggg on your shirt.'

Is baby talk somehow tailored to the learning abilities of infants? Possibly, although it may be that babies are tuned in to adult emotions and baby talk usually comes with smiles, nods and other positive signs lacking from typical adult speech.

In 1 study, when both adult speech and baby talk showed the same emotion, babies did not seem to prefer the baby talk. And when adult speech used a more positive emotion than the baby talk did, infants preferred the adult speech.

Other studies have left no doubt about the importance of talking to babies in this way meant just for them. Mothers with postpartum depression are less likely to talk baby talk, and their babies may be at risk for language and other delays. A more recent study found that coaching parents on using “parentese” can actually improve babies' language skills.

Whether babies are picking up the details of language or basking in the glow of a loving adult, baby talk is one of their favorite entertainments. So don’t worry about sounding silly—go right ahead and enjoy a session of baby talk with your baby.

Disclaimer: This page is not intended to provide medical advice about your child. Always seek the advice of a physician, qualified healthcare provider or child-development specialist with any questions you have about your child's health, medical condition or development. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you read here.

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