Babbling to babies is OK, despite previous warnings against it

Excerpt from the January 23, 1965, issue of Science News Letter

TALK TO ME  Fifty years ago, a researcher advised banning baby talk, but results since then say otherwise. 


cover of January 23, 1965 SNLTalking baby talk makes child learn two languages — Never use baby talk to young children, a speech expert warned parents in London. Otherwise, the children will have two languages to learn instead of one. “If mothers could only realize what harm they do they would never talk down to a child,” said Mrs. Barbara Hicks, a fellow of speech and drama at the College of Music, London. “It’s just as easy to say ‘train’ as to say ‘puff-puff.’ ” 
Science News Letter, January 23, 1965


Hicks’ advice was probably well-intentioned, but it’s wrong, says psychologist and language researcher Erik Thiessen of Carnegie Mellon University. Little work has focused on the effects of nonsense words. Still, what has been done suggests that baby talk makes words easier for babies to pronounce and teaches general language concepts. Many studies indicate that the high-pitched, exaggerated vowels of “parentese” help babies learn to form words. As for a second language being harmful, research suggests that babies from bilingual families get a learning boost over children who hear only one language at home (SN Online: 8/8/14).

Tina Hesman Saey is the senior staff writer and reports on molecular biology. She has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Washington University in St. Louis and a master’s degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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