Parentese and Motherese: Talking to Your Baby

Parentese, or motherese if you're referring solely to the mother, is a type of language linguists have identified that parents use to teach and communicate with their infants. Plainly, it's known as 'baby talk.' Parentese is designed to help ease your child into learning language. By making it easier at first and then gradually more difficult as your child progresses, a parent scaffolds development.

In other words, parentese allows a parent to communicate with the child at a level slightly above the infant's understanding so that the communication is challenging enough to help the child learn and still simple enough to understand. What is most amazing, however, is that parentese is a hardwired mechanism.

What is Parentese?
Parentese is using modified standard vocabulary words so that it's easier for a baby to understand them. Some of the characteristics of these words include:

  • shorter syllables
  • parsing down words to phonemes
  • highly repetitive usage
But parentese is also about how the parent intones the words. Parents will speak differently by:
  • raising their pitch
  • slowing down the pace of speaking
  • simplifying the subject matter and sentence structure
Lastly, researchers have found that when parents speak to their infants, the same subject matter is found across cultures. They include:
  • names for relatives
  • good and bad behavior
  • animal names
  • eating
  • sleeping
  • bathroom matters

Go Ahead, Talk the Baby Talk
If you've been found to engage in any of the above, don't be ashamed. In fact, keep it up, because it helps develop your baby's language skills.