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Baby Talk Works

The more baby talk (e.g., words that repeat themselves, like choo-choo, or diminutives, like bunny or Mommy) that babies are exposed to, the quicker they grasp language, according to a new study at Scotland’s University of Edinburgh.

The study’s assessments of nine-month-old children suggest that those who hear baby-talk words more frequently are faster at picking up new words between nine and 21 months, and researchers say these findings suggest some types of baby-talk words—more than other words—can help infants develop their vocabulary more quickly.

The team says words that end in y—such as tummy, Mommy, and doggy—or words that repeat sounds—such as choo-choo and night-night—could help infants identify words in speech. As well as analyzing diminutives ending in y and reduplication—which contains repeated syllables—they checked for onomatopoeic words that sound like their meanings, such as woof and splash.

They examined the rate of the infants’ language development by measuring the size of the children’s vocabulary at nine, 15, and 21 months. They found that infants who heard a higher proportion of diminutive words and words with repeated syllables developed their language more quickly between nine and 21 months. They did not find this effect on vocabulary growth for onomatopoeic baby-talk words.

“Our findings suggest that diminutives and reduplication, which are frequently found in baby-talk words—across many different languages—can facilitate the early stage of vocabulary development,” said Dr. Mitsuhiko Ota, School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences.

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