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Infant Behav Dev. 2019 Feb;54:120-132. doi: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2019.01.005. Epub 2019 Feb 10.

Is feeding the new play? Examination of the maternal language and prosody used during infant feeding.

Author information

1
Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, 02115, USA. Electronic address: e.zimmerman@neu.edu.
2
Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Northeastern University, Boston, MA, 02115, USA.
3
Department of Communication Disorders, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.

Abstract

The current study examined maternal language and prosody production during feeding (milk vs. solid foods) and playing with their infant compared to an adult-directed speech (ADS) baseline in 12 healthy full-term infants (6-13 months old). We recorded maternal language during 10 min of spontaneous speech across the four conditions. We further recorded maternal connected speech containing specific word targets, elicited through picture description, to attain prosodic measures. Results showed that mothers used significantly fewer verbs and more utterances per minute in the baseline condition compared to play or solid feeding conditions. Type token ratio was significantly higher during milk compared to play or solid feeding conditions and baseline was significantly higher than play. Vowel duration and peak fundamental frequency were significantly higher during play compared to ADS baseline. These findings suggest that maternal language and prosody changed across conditions, with feeding offering more lexical diversity than play. The most robust infant directed speech was observed during play and followed by the solid feeding condition, whereas it was not observed during the milk and ADS conditions. Identifying opportunities for maternal linguistic input is key to advancing infant development. These findings suggest that mealtime may provide such an opportunity for speech and language input.

KEYWORDS:

Feeding; Infant-directed speech; Language; Play; Prosody

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