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J Child Lang. 1989 Oct;16(3):477-501.

A cross-language study of prosodic modifications in mothers' and fathers' speech to preverbal infants.


This study compares the prosodic modifications in mothers' and fathers' speech to preverbal infants in French, Italian, German, Japanese, British English, and American English. At every stage of data collection and analysis, standardized procedures were used to enhance the comparability across data sets that is essential for valid cross-language comparison of the prosodic features of parental speech. In each of the six language groups, five mothers and five fathers were recorded in semi-structured home observations while speaking to their infant aged 0;10-1;2 and to an adult. Speech samples were instrumentally analysed to measure seven prosodic parameters: mean fundamental frequency (f0), f0-minimum, f0-maximum, f0-range, f0-variability, utterance duration, and pause duration. Results showed cross-language consistency in the patterns of prosodic modification used in parental speech to infants. Across languages, both mothers and fathers used higher mean-f0, f0-minimum, and f0-maximum, greater f0-variability, shorter utterances, and longer pauses in infant-directed speech than in adult-directed speech. Mothers, but not fathers, used a wider f0-range in speech to infants. American English parents showed the most extreme prosodic modifications, differing from the other language groups in the extent of intonational exaggeration in speech to infants. These results reveal common patterns in caretaker's use of intonation across languages, which may function developmentally to regulate infant arousal and attention, to communicate affect, and to facilitate speech perception and language comprehension. In addition to providing evidence for possibly universal prosodic features of speech to infants, these results suggest that language-specific variations are also important, and that the findings of the numerous studies of early language input based on American English are not necessarily generalisable to other cultures.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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