LINGUIST List 14.2805

Thu Oct 16 2003

Sum: Infant-Directed Speech

Editor for this issue: Naomi Fox <>


  1. Fay Wouk, summary: prosody and infant directed speech

Message 1: summary: prosody and infant directed speech

Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 11:40:39 +1300
From: Fay Wouk <>
Subject: summary: prosody and infant directed speech

A while back I posted the following query (Linguist 14.2026):

Anne Fernald, in 'Human maternal vocalizations to infants as 
biologically relevant signals: An evolutionary perspective. In 
Language Acquisition: : Core Readings, Paul Bloom (ed.). 1996 
Cambridge MA: MIT Press. Reprinted from Barkow et al, 1992, The 
Adapted Mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. 
Oxford: Oxford University Press. suggests some universals in terms of 
prosodic patterns in speech directed to infants. I was wondering if 
anyone knows of any further work done in this area, and in 
particular, if there has been any investigation of this in some of 
the cultures (like Samoan, Quiche Mayan or working class 
African-Americans) where it has been claimed that little or no speech 
is directed at infants.

I received responses from Denis Donovan and Jeroen van de Weijer.

Dennis Donovan suggested that I look at a complementary set of 
literature on infant responses to music, and provided the following 

Trehub, S. E. and L. J. Trainor (1993). Listening strategies in infancy:
The roots of music and language development. Thinking in Sound: The
Cognitive Psychology of Human Audition. S. McAdams and E. Bigand.
Oxford, Oxford University Press: 278-327.

He also sent me copy of Sandra Trehub's chapter (Musical 
Predispositions in Infancy) in the Annals of the New York Academy of 
Science (no publication date given on the file).

Jeroen van de Weijer suggested that I contact his brother, Joost van 
de Weijer, who had recently completed a dissertation on the subject, 
looking at child-directed Dutch. I did so, and Joost van de Weijer 
provided the following references:

Fernald, A., Taeschner, T., Dunn, J., Papousek, M., de Boysson-Bardies, B.
and Furui, I. (1989). A cross-language study of prosodic modifications in
mothers' and fathers' speech to preverbal infants. Journal of Child
Language, 16, 477-501.

Ratner, N. and Pye, C. (1984). Higher pitch in BT is not universal: acoustic
evidence from Quiche Mayan. Journal of Child Language, 2, 515-522.

Weijer, J. van de (1997). Language Input to a Prelingual Infant. In A.
Sorace, C. Heycock and R. Shillcock (eds.). Proceedings of the GALA '97
Conference on Language Acquisition (pp. 290-293). Edinburgh, Scotland.

He also suggested that I look for work by Dennis Burnham, and 
Christine Kitamura on Thai child-directed speech, although he did not 
have a reference for that..

I would like to thank Denis Donovan, Jeroen van de Weijer, and Joost 
van de Weijer for their assistance.

Dr. Fay Wouk
Senior Lecturer in Linguistics
Department of Applied Language Studies and Linguistics
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
New Zealand
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue