Baby talk help infants learn English more than other words

The more '˜baby talk' words infants hear such as '˜choo-choo' and '˜bunny', the quicker they grasp language, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have said.

Words such as 'choo-choo' can actually help infants better grasp the English language

Assessments of nine-month-old children suggest that those who hear these types of words more frequently are faster at picking up new words between nine and 21 months.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh say these findings suggest some types of baby talk words – more than other words – can help infants develop their vocabulary more quickly.

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The team says words that end in ‘y’ – such as tummy, mummy and doggy – or words that repeat sounds – such as choo-choo and night-night – could help infants identify words in speech.

Linguists at the university recorded samples of speech addressed to 47 infants learning English.

They checked the speech addressed to each infant for features that characterise baby talk words.

As well as analysing so-called diminutives ending in ‘y’ and reduplication – which contains repeated syllables – they checked for onomatopoeic words that sound like their meaning, such as ‘woof’ and ‘splash’.

They examined the rate of the infants’ language development by measuring the size of the children’s vocabulary at nine, 15 and 21 months.

They found that infants who heard a higher proportion of diminutive words and words with repeated syllables developed their language more quickly between nine and 21 months.

Lead researcher Mitsuhiko Ota, of the university’s school of philosophy, psychology and language sciences, said: “Our findings suggest that diminutives and reduplication, which are frequently found in baby talk words – across many different languages – can facilitate the early stage of vocabulary development.”

They did not find this effect on vocabulary growth for onomatopoeic baby talk words.

At least 7,000 children in Scotland have problems in language and speech development in their early years, according to Save the Children.

It is estimated some children go to school having heard 32 million fewer words than their peers. This is referred to as ‘word poverty’

The problem tends to be higher among youngsters in deprived communities.

This can lead to children falling behind with their learning when go to nursery and primary school.

The research, which is published in ‘Cognitive Science’ is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.