Cross-cultural register differences in infant-directed speech: An initial study


Infant-directed speech (IDS) provides an environment that appears to play a significant role in the origins of language in the human infant. Differences have been reported in the use of IDS across cultures, suggesting different styles of infant language-learning. Importantly, both cross-cultural and intra-cultural research suggest there may be a positive relationship between the use of IDS and rates of language development, underscoring the need to investigate cultural differences more deeply. The majority of studies, however, have conceptualized IDS monolithically, granting little attention to a potentially key distinction in how IDS manifests across cultures during the first two years. This study examines and quantifies for the first time differences within IDS in the use of baby register (IDS/BR), an acoustically identifiable type of IDS that includes features such as high pitch, long duration, and smooth intonation (the register that is usually assumed to occur in IDS), and adult register (IDS/AR), the type of IDS that does not include such features and thus sounds as if it could have been addressed to an adult. We studied IDS across 19 American and 19 Lebanese mother-infant dyads, with particular focus on the differential use of registers within IDS as mothers interacted with their infants ages 0-24 months. Our results showed considerable usage of IDS/AR (>30% of utterances) and a tendency for Lebanese mothers to use more IDS than American mothers. Implications for future research on IDS and its role in elucidating how language evolves across cultures are explored.

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