Child-directed speech and its role in language acquisition

Term Paper, 2016

15 Pages, Grade: 1,6



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Characteristics of CDS
2.1 Vocabulary/Level ofword: child-directed speech (CDS)
2.2 Functions of CDS

3. Different views on CDS
3.1 Is CDS the same in different languages and countries?
3.2 The role of the input

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

In many societies, adults and older children use a non-standard form of speech when talking to toddlers and infants. This form of speech is called Child-directed speech (CDS). It is also referred to as infant-directed speech (IDS) or motherese. CDS can be defined as a clear and simplified way of communicating to younger children used by adults and older children. In CDS, many of the same words used in adult conversation are used. However, CDS is often more melodic and emotionally charged. It is thought to appeal more to babies and that they pay more attention when they are spoken to in this manner. It helps the baby to grasp the emotional intentions of speech. Many researchers believe that CDS is a species-specific behaviour that evolved to enhance communication between human babies and their caregivers because of its features such as melody and wide use (Dewar, 2008)

2. Characteristics of CDS

CDS includes several modifications designed specifically for babies. CDS is slower, more repetitive and exaggerates the pronunciation of vowels. In most cases, people using CDS are more likely to use shorter and simpler words and utterances (Dewar, G., 2008).

In many cases, CDS is delivered with a “cooing” pattern of intonation that is different from that of normal adult speech. It is high in pitch, has many glissando variations and displays hyperarticulation (exaggerated articulation), an increase in the distance between peripheral vowels. For instance, the point vowels [i,a,u] are acoustically more peripheral in infant-directed speech (IDS) compared to adult-directed speech (ADS) (Cristia and Seidl, 2014:914). Speech is slowed with a greater number of pauses, sentences are shorter and grammar is simplified and often repeated (Harley, 2010: 60).

There are three main types of modifications that occur in the production of CDS:

- Linguistic modifications including the simplification of certain speech units and emphasis on various phonemes
- Modifications to attention getting strategies; visual movements to the face are used to gain and maintain the attention of infants more effectively
- Modifications to the interactions between parents and infants; in terms of bonding between parents and infants (Mcleod, 1993:282).

Experiments suggest that these modifications help babies develop several key abilities such as:

- the ability to discriminate between different speech sounds
- the ability to detect the boundaries between words in a stream of speech
- the ability to recognize distinct clauses in a stream of speech (Dewar, 2008).

Individual differences in the use of CDS could also affect how quickly infants learn to speak. Usually, the younger the child, the more exaggerated CDS is. Research such as that conducted by Huei-Mei Liu and colleagues shows that infants prefer CDS over normal speech because it is slow, simple and easier to understand (Dewar, 2008: 1). In the experiment by Robin Cooper and Richard Aslin, 2-day old infants were presented with audio recordings of adult speech, some were CDS and others were ADS. The babies could then control how long each playback lasted by turning their heads towards a loudspeaker. The researchers found that the babies turned their heads longer in response to CDS (Cooper and Aslin, 1990 as cited in Dewar, 2008a). Similar experiments were performed on older babies and the same results were obtained. In one study conducted, five-month-old babies showed a preference for CDS (Schachner and Hannon, 2011 as cited in Dewar, 2008a)

One of the prominent characteristics of CDS is the wider opening of the mouth, especially in vowels. The horizontal positioning of lips in CDS does not differ from that in adult directed speech. The main difference lies in vertical lip positioning. By making the opening of the lips larger in CDS, infants are more likely to focus on the face of the speaker. The larger the opening of the lips, the more likely infants are to understand the message being conveyed (Fernald, 1991: 43-45; Green et al., 2010: 1529). Table 1 below shows the types of utterances in CDS. According to studies by Cameron et al (2003) and Wells (1981), CDS contains various types of utterances. The most common are descriptions and naming. There are usually a large number of questions and fragments too. Imperatives are also found in CDS.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: Types of Utterances in CDS

Source: Sonja, E. (2010). Talking to children: The role of child-directed speech in language development.

CDS does not only involve high pitched speech and elongated syllables. It also incorporates visual body movements that help in conveying the meaning of language to infants. The movement of lips is of great significance in this regard. Head movements are also used to emphasize various syllables. These visual cues help to provide infants the additional information they need to perform accurate speech discrimination during language development. In addition, visual cues are used by infants in environments in which they cannot totally rely on hearing such as in noisy environments. The auditory and visual aspects of CDS do not exist independently. Infants rely on both and strengthen the link between the two as development continues (Green et al., 2010: 1529-1533).

The visual cues used in CDS motivate infants to engage in communication as they often pattern their speech after it (Goldstein and Schwade, 2008: 515). Caregivers are better able to use CDS because of the significant progress achieved through its use and the response of the infants to CDS (Green et al., 2010:1530). Infants are not only attracted to the practice of CDS but to the people who engage in it. Through CDS, infants can determine positive and encouraging caregivers in their development. In this way, their cognitive development seems to thrive because they are being encouraged by adults who are invested in theirdevelopment (Schachnerand Hannon, 2011: 19).

2.1 Vocabulary/Level ofwords: child directed speech (CDS)

CDS often involves shortening and simplifying words, sometimes with the addition of slurred words and nonverbal utterances, and can invoke a vocabulary of its own. Some utterances are invented by parents, passed down from generations or quite widely known and used in most families, such as wawa for water, num-num for a meal, ba-ba for bottle, or beddy-bye for bedtime. They are called standard or traditional words. CDS usually consists of a muddle of words including names for family members, animals, bodily functions and so on, and may be sprinkled with nonverbal utterances like goo goo ga ga (Phillips, 1973: 182).

A fair number of CDS words refer to bodily functions or the genitals, partly because the words are relatively easy to pronounce such as pee-pee and poo-poo which have been very widely used in reference to bodily functions to the point that they are considered to be standard words (ibid). In CDS, the vocabulary is limited as very few words are involved.

2.2 Functions of CDS

According to various researchers such as Thiessen et al (2005), CDS is more effective in getting the attention of an infant than using regular speech. Infants also prefer to listen to it (Reschke, 2002:15). It is also an important part of the emotional bonding process between the child and parents or caregivers (Shore, 1997:12). It helps the infants learn the language as babies pick up words faster than usual with CDS. Infants pay more attention to the slower and repetitive tone of CDS compared to ADS/ regular conversation (Boyles, 2005: 1).

CDS has several functions including its positive effects on the early development of infants and children, and in fostering the bond between infants and caregivers. In a study by Stanford University researcher Anne Fernald and colleagues, five-month-old American babies were observed to pick up on the emotional cues and respond with the appropriate emotion to CDS in foreign languages- German and Italian (Fernald et al, 1989 as cited in Dewar, 2008a: 1).


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Child-directed speech and its role in language acquisition
University of Cologne
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