Baby Talk: Annoying to Some, Great For Your Children

Next time someone gives you flack for using "that baby voice," share this piece of news with them.

Benefits of Baby Talk Winnerlana/Shutterstock

Baby talk has its fair share of haters—but if recent research is any indication, it also has its fair share of benefits.

A team from Rutgers University found that the urge to adopt a sing-songy, exaggerated speech pattern when you speak to your (or any) baby might actually be born of an intuitive understanding that the baby learns best that way.

"Our intuitions are surprisingly right," Patrick Shafto, an associate professor of mathematics and computer science, explained. "Why do we speak funny to children? It's actually to help them learn the relevant properties of language."

This contradicts what other experts have suggested: That we should start talking to our babies "normally" since adult sounds, cadence and tone of voice are what children should learn down the road. The Rutgers team approached their research in a more scientific way by breaking down vowel sounds and creating a mathematical model to evaluate understandable speech patterns. The goal of their research? To gain an idea of what speech would sound like if it were actually designed for the purpose of teaching babies. The researchers then compared this model to both speech patterns: the one adults use in day-to-day life and the infant-directed speech we commonly pick up when talking to babies. 

Their findings indicated that—you guessed it—infant-directed speech (which is basically a fancy way of saying goo-goo-gah-gah) is a closer match to the "ideal" baby model they developed.

"The sounds that are selected exaggerate the important properties that babies need to attend to and learn about," Shafto said. "If you exaggerate in the correct way, what you get is a learner who learns more quickly from less data."

Researchers also pointed out that despite that fact that babies naturally process "infant-directed speech" well, they are able to translate the "baby talk" into regular language when the time is right.

These findings are incredibly interesting because, let's face it, people love to hate on baby-talkers. This research raises the idea that slipping into that speech pattern might just be an instinct that comes from a mother's innate ability to sense what her child needs. It's pretty interesting stuff and we want to hear what you think: Are you in favor of baby talk? Does it bother you? Did this study cause you to change your mind about it one way or another? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Related: The Simple Way to Boost Baby's Language Development