Motherese and Parentese: What Research Says About Talking to Baby

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Goo Goo Ga Ga

When visiting a foreign country usually you will hear a foreign language. Motherese (also known as Parentese) is a type of language which has actually been found in many countries across the world including the United States of America, Japan, and Nigeria. It has also shown up in sign language which is better known as “Visual Motherese.” So what is the definition of Parentese and Motherese?

Motherese is really just “baby talk.” It is when the mother speaks to the infant in a very high pitched voice along with a slower rhythm and an inflated tone. This is an infant-directed type of speech opposed to an adult-directed type of speech. Not only is it found that mothers talk this way to their babies, but also fathers, grandparents, other family members, and even strangers meeting a baby for the first time. There is just something about seeing a baby which makes you want to “coo” and “goo” as you interact with baby talk.

Benefits of Cooing

While scientists and studies have shown that infants prefer baby talk opposed to adult talk, are there any benefits from this type of infant-directed talk? Are these babies advancing in the area of language development because of Motherese? Actually while many people may think this type of talk is “dumbing’ the child down, it is actually helping the language development area of the infant.

As the infant directs more attention to the sing song chatter of Motherese, they are paying more attention to the language and hence helping to expand their speech development. The high awareness of the infant-directed talk helps to encourage the baby to process the speech more so. Another benefit which comes along with Motherese is that it helps the infant to distinguish arrangement in language such as the difference between words or sentences. This all comes into play as the infant is learning to talk and grasping the knowledge needed for language development.

How Television Can Help

So while you may want to change the Teletubbies when it comes on next time, rethink that choice. The Teletubbies have been popularized for the sing-song chatter or Motherese way of speaking. Next time pay attention to the infant’s enjoyment and reaction as he or she is watching this show…it will come as no shock as the infant may try to mimic and coo along with the characters.


Gehl, L. (2009). Chinese, Japanese, Motherese? Hopscotch. 19(5), 22-23.