Ruth Anne Hammond

Infant/Toddler Development Consultant

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Thinking About...

A little quiet conversation during class.

What About Baby Talk?

Has anyone ever told you that you should speak to your baby like you speak to an adult? Did that make you wonder if you can take ‘respect’ a bit too far? I’ve been thinking about that….


The primary question is…does respect look and sound the same regardless of the age of the person, or the nature of our relationship? Aren't we more subtle than that? We show respect to our bosses and grandmothers by using different language and tones of voice than we do with our buddies, certainly. One of the hallmarks of respect is communication that can be understood by the other person, so teenage slang doesn’t usually play with grandmothers. And…adult tones of voice are actually not what babies respond to as they learn about social communication. They need something called ‘motherese,’ ‘parentese,’ or ‘infant-directed speech.’

This kind of communication is actually adopted unconsciously by most adults and older children when speaking with a baby, and is characterized by elongated vowels, higher pitch, musicality and repetition. These qualities of speech are offered up automatically, out of the right side of the brain, as a time-tested way of making the communication understandable and engaging to the baby. And what is it that the baby is learning from this ‘baby talk?’ He is learning about love, that communication transmits emotions, and is an avenue for building relationships.

Of course he is also learning vocabulary, syntax, and sentence structure on some level that won’t show up for many months, so even in infant-directed speech, we can use the proper words for things and decent grammar. But if you’ve ever been made to feel like you shouldn’t call your darling Snookiekins, relax and appreciate her joyful, wide-eyed interest. Mother Nature would approve!

Selected Works

Textbook
Article: Educaring, Affective Neuroscience and Selective Intervention
This article ties together RIE's Educaring Approach with the new field of affective neuroscience to describe how RIE methods of infant care and education lead to self-regulation in babies and young children.
Nonfiction
A guide for all those who take care of babies.

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