Parentese Benefits Parent-Baby Dialog and Improves Language Development

Parentese is a way of speaking that attracts the baby’s attention. Mother and father adopt its simple grammar and words, plus its distorted sounds, almost without thinking about it.

New research from the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, or I-LABS, at the University of Washington, suggests they might, to a baby’s benefit. Researchers examined how parent coaching about the value of parentese affected adults’ use of it with their infants and demonstrated that increases in the use of parentese enhanced children’s later language expertise.

The research, published online February 3 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that parents who participated in individual coaching sessions used parentese more often than control-group dad and mom who weren’t trained.  That training produced more parent-baby “conversational turns” and elevated the child’s language skills months later.

Parentese is not what is often called “child speak,” which is usually a mash-up of foolish sounds and nonsense words. As a substitute, it’s a fully grammatical speech that includes real phrases, elongated vowels, and exaggerated tones of voice.

Spoken directly to the kid, it sounds happy and engaging and helps infants tune in socially to their parents and reply, even if only through babbling.

In a 2018 research, I-LABS researchers tracked the use of parentese among adults and their 6-month-old infants and noted that babies whose parents took part in parentese training sessions babbled more and produced extra words by age 14 months.

The new research concentrates on the long-interval results of parent training and how it resulted in variation in the parents’ speech, in parent-baby dialog, and ultimately, in the child’s speech at 18 months.