Specific ‘baby talk’ words boost language learning, study suggests

Written by Tom Freeman on 1 August 2018 in News

University of Edinburgh study shows some words are better than others at teaching infants language skills

Baby talking to a puppet - credit ohkylel

Specific words aimed at babies have a knock-on benefit to their speech and language skills, a University of Edinburgh study has shown.

Researchers measured the size of 47 children’s vocabulary at nine, 15 and 21 months after being played specific word groups.

The study found the use of ‘baby talk’ such as repeated sounds and words ending in ‘y’ were more effective than others.

These include the words ‘mummy’, ‘doggy’, ‘choo-choo’ and ‘night-night’.

Children who had heard these type of words seemed to develop their language more quickly between nine and 21 months.

Researchers also experimented with onomatopoeic words which sound like their meaning such as ‘splash’ or animal noises, but a similar benefit was not recorded.

Lead researcher Mitsuhiko Ota, of the University of Edinburgh’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.” 

At least 7,000 children in Scotland have problems in language and speech development in the early years, according to Save the Children, and are twice as likely among more deprived communities.

As the Holyrood Baby work has shown, young infants make 1,000 synaptic connections a second as their brain develops rapidly, so every moment they are spoken to - or ignored - makes a difference.

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