It’s pretty much universal – when anyone talks to a baby, they usually raise their voice a few decibels. It seems to be almost human nature to talk to a baby in a higher pitch. Why? Well, no one knows for sure but it seems that as universally as adults raise their pitch, babies like high-pitched voices and other baby talk.
You probably notice yourself doing it and everyone around you does it too. When you engage your baby, your voice automatically goes to a higher pitch, you elongate vowel sounds, you speak slower, you repeat sounds, you use a greater pitch range, your tone is happy or soothing and you inflect more emotion into your speech. This “baby talk” is referred to as infant-directed speech or motherese or parentese, even by experts. Speaking to a baby in this manner is almost as natural as childbirth itself. People who have very little experience with babies even find themselves using infant-directed speech.
The reason we use infant-directed speech is not exactly clear other than babies tend to respond better to it. And it is probably the combination of pitch, tone, emotions and inflection that babies enjoy. After all, even men elicit positive responses from babies and their voices rarely get as high-pitched as women.
We can look to nature for some answers. When animals call to each other, they often do it in high-pitched voices. It’s attention grabbing and seems to provoke reactions in the wild. The same is true in a domestic setting. Our pets also respond to baby talk and we tend to use it on them as well. So, the same can be said for our most precious little ones: babies like high-pitched voices too.
Additionally, although young infants don’t know what we are saying, they are often comforted, more interested and entertained when we use infant-directed speech. Babies may be able to make the inference that a message is happy, warm and loving by this tone, even when the words are meaningless to them.
Several studies show that babies turn towards infant-directed speech more than adult-directed speech and their electrical brain waves are more active when hearing infant-directed speech. They may also learn words and take to their native language better when this form of baby talk is used. Expressive language can help babies differentiate sounds, words and phrases, all of which are crucial to language development. In fact, adults can even learn other languages better when exposed to them with greater expression.
Human contact, especially with you, is your baby’s favorite source of stimulation. Whether it is looking at your face, smelling your scent or hearing your voice, your baby is hard-wired to like you best. Babies like high-pitched voices and other infant-directed speech elements because they are attention-grabbing and comforting. Next time you feel silly using this type of speech, you can rest assured that it’s good for your baby’s language development and emotional bond with you.
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