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The origins of babytalk: smiling, teaching or social convergence?

Kalashnikova, M; Carignan, C; Burnham, D; (2017) The origins of babytalk: smiling, teaching or social convergence? Royal Society Open Science , 4 (8) , Article 170306. 10.1098/rsos.170306. Green open access

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Abstract

When addressing their young infants, parents systematically modify their speech. Such infant-directed speech (IDS) contains exaggerated vowel formants, which have been proposed to foster language development via articulation of more distinct speech sounds. Here, this assumption is rigorously tested using both acoustic and, for the first time, fine-grained articulatory measures. Mothers were recorded speaking to their infant and to another adult, and measures were taken of their acoustic vowel space, their tongue and lip movements and the length of their vocal tract. Results showed that infant- but not adult-directed speech contains acoustically exaggerated vowels, and these are not the product of adjustments to tongue or to lip movements. Rather, they are the product of a shortened vocal tract due to a raised larynx, which can be ascribed to speakers' unconscious effort to appear smaller and more non-threatening to the young infant. This adjustment in IDS may be a vestige of early mother-infant interactions, which had as its primary purpose the transmission of non-aggressiveness and/or a primitive manifestation of pre-linguistic vocal social convergence of the mother to her infant. With the advent of human language, this vestige then acquired a secondary purpose-facilitating language acquisition via the serendipitously exaggerated vowels.

Type: Article
Title: The origins of babytalk: smiling, teaching or social convergence?
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170306
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.170306
Language: English
Additional information: Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creative commons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Keywords: electromagnetic articulography, infant-directed speech, vowel hyperarticulation
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Speech, Hearing and Phonetic Sciences
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10081846
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