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Baby Talk

October 13, 2017

Moms the world over use the same vocal timbre when speaking to babies.



The sonic texture of baby-speak. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When moms talk to their infant children –


Paul bunny! And the mouse!

HIRSHON:…they shift the timbre, or texture, of their voice away from that of their adult voice. Princeton cognitive neuroscientist Elise Piazza, and her colleagues analyzed baby-speak among both native English speakers, and also speakers of nine other languages, from Spanish to Mandarin. In the journal Current Biology, she reports that all the moms used the same shift in vocal timbre – so recognizable that a computer could identify it from a one-second speech sample.

ELISE PIAZZA (Princeton Neuroscience Institute):

So it really seems like the shifts in timbre that we found between adults directed speech and motherese represent a universal form of communication that mothers implicitly use to engage their babies and to support their language learning.


The work could help researchers studying language development and speech therapies. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon

*Note: “The researchers did not investigate fathers or other caregivers” according to Princeton University.