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The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Nuts and Bolts: parentese.

Do you speak parentese? You almost certainly do if you're a parent, or if you have ever had anything to do with babies.

Parentese isn't a language so much as a speaking style. It has simplified grammar, a high pitch to the voice, and exaggerated sounds, especially on the important words.

It's a BAALLL! someone might say to a small child, the voice as full of wonder and delight as can possibly be managed.

Yes, it is quite hard work.

Parentese is used in nearly all the world's languages (I must try to find out in which languages parentese isn't used: if I succeed, I'll let you know). Anyway, parentese seems to be an instinctive behaviour when faced with an infant. Parentese has already been shown to be effective in fostering language acquisition in the baby, and now a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by the Institute for Learning & Brain Research, or I-LABS (I wonder how long it took them to come up with such a neat acronym?) has shown that giving parents parentese lessons leads to increased use of parentese, and this in turn leads to children acquiring more words more quickly than those in the study's control group.

Why does parentese work? Patricia Kuhl, I-LAB's director, says it's because the pattern of speech of parentese attracts the attention of the baby. It also makes the use of language a social and happy occasion, and invites a response.

(Well, it's always useful to have confirmation, even of the most obvious things.)

The great discovery of the study as far as I'm concerned is that if you tell parents that using parentese helps their baby, then parents will use it more, with measurable positive results. After all, parentese does make you look like a bit of an idiot.

So it's good news all round. Because, after all, life is much easier for everyone when a child can ask for something instead of having to do a lot of random bawling, isn't it.

Word To Use Today: parentese. The word parent comes from the Latin word parere, to bring forth.

The lead author of the study was Naja Ferian Remirez, and the co-author was Sarah Roseberry Lytle.

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