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Baby talk

A discussion of the peculiarities of languages and the differences between them.

Postby M. Henri Day » Sat Apr 09, 2005 9:42 am

I suspect infants will continue to learn languages as they «always» have, and that adults will continue to speak to them as they always have. But I do find Dr Thiessen & Co's research of interest in that it shows how (most) people, in speaking to infants facilitate the parsing of sentences for meaning. Will infants learn to speak whether or not this is done ? Certainly - mine did and I was never much of a baby-talker. But I did (adult) talk a lot to them, as they seemed to enjoy it and this was just the reward I needed to continue doing so....

Henri
曾记否,到中流击水,浪遏飞舟?
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Postby wquinette » Sat Apr 09, 2005 12:29 pm

I'm with Katy and Anders on this one. From my experience raising my two daughters, I know babies trust their parents. If you point to a train and tell them it's a choo-choo, there's no reason why they shouldn't accept it as the truth - even though trains haven't being sounding like this for a long time now.
If you say it's a train, that's the word they'll use, even if they can't pronounce it correctly at first (but they usually get the hang of it in no time).

My wife and I have always agreed that we shouldn't treat babies like stupid beings; and, as Anders said, why teach them something they'll soon be forced (by their very parents...) to dispose of ? Both my kids were able to communicate quite well at an early age, and if their speech ever sounded like baby talk it was only due to the fact that they were babies indeed. Anyway that baby talk phase didn't last long.

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Postby tcward » Sat Apr 09, 2005 7:53 pm

The whole baby talk thing drives Shannon and me somewhat crazy. It's amazingly easy for little ones to pick up on that kind of speech pattern and emulate it.

My youngest has even developed a habit of talking baby talk and saying she is a baby while she's doing it -- a kind of role-playing, I guess -- but it drives me nuts how loud she is when she's playing this role. She'll even get to the point when she isn't even saying words, just grunts and babbles... Aargh!

We just got home from a trip down to Happy Cow Creamery in S.C., and the journey that should have taken 2.5 hrs there ended up taking about 4, and same for back... We left at 10:30am and just walked in the door, bombarded with episodes of G's baby talk all the while. I couldn't help but think of this thread as she exercised her verbal annoyances on us. :lol:

-Tim
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Postby gailr » Sat Apr 09, 2005 8:41 pm

I think some people adopt baby-talk when addressing infants because they believe it's soothing. I wonder how it actually appears from the other side: giant heads looming in; creepy faces showing a threatening amount of teeth; too-loud, near-shrieking sounds constructed of rhymes (rhymes bordering on thought disorder, I might add).

I very much enjoy listening to a child who was raised with grammatical English; their humor (intended or not) is not lost to babbling. However, I do not appreciate those friends/relatives who baby-talk to their little monsters and then put them on the phone to gurgle incomprehensibly at me, with the expectation that I respond in kind and coo (to the putative adults) about how cutesie wutsie little junior is.

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(Lord, am I becoming a curmudgeon?)!!!
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Postby tcward » Sat Apr 09, 2005 11:50 pm

Wow, gailr, you nailed it, as usual... In fact, I was realizing that the only perpetuation of baby talk outside the actual "baby" of the family is always from the older sibling...! It's as if there are enough external cues coming from TV or whatever that the older kids think this is appropriate interaction with an infant-toddler...

Curmudgeon or not, I completely agree!

-Tim :x
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Postby KatyBr » Sat Apr 09, 2005 11:55 pm

Gailr,
I agree so I must be a curmudgeon too.
It's stupid to reinforce a language that no one can understand. I don't know about the rest of you, but when a child says something to me I don't understand and the parent translates I don't see it as cute I see it as laziness on the part of the parent and I'm embarrassed for the child. A child gets a head start in life, and school, when they learn to communicate early.

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Postby Flaminius » Sun Apr 10, 2005 7:05 am

Gailr, Tim and Katy, you are curmudgeons not. You are justly resenting the emanation of private codes to the public domain.

My "take" on baby talk is that it is the morphological aspect of a continual process for a child to aquire his first language. Language acquisition is not a great leap from zero-competence to the full mastery but a dynamic process during which the child presents many intermediate forms of the language (called interlanguages in the literature). Until the child aquires the entirety of his mother tongue, he continues to build the next interlanguage upon the current interlanguage.

Each interlanguage is erroneous in one point or another, if the language spoken by adults around him is to be applied as the yardstick of correctness. You can't blame the child for doing what he needs to do, of course. Theoretically parents do no good to the children by reinforcing wrong words or grammar but I imagine it is rather hard to do so unless they are trained linguists (btw I know a linguist couple who intentionally taught a wrong grammar to their children. To the relief of everyone, his grammar became Japanese grammar very quickly).

I find it more of interest what reaction careless ones get when they expect outsiders to understand their in-group codes that can be incomprehensible with ordinary grammar and vocabulary.

Baby talk heard outside the family is like technical jargon thrown at the laity without explantion. It causes similar reactions to those of slangs uttered across social barriers, which are typically marked by distinctions of sex, age and social status. Sensible people like those frequent the Agora feel discomfort when they are exposed to unashamed disclosure of privacy.

I might be coming from a tribal society but I find the distinction of community and the outside bearing considerable importance in the present discussion. Behaviours desirable within the community is different from those outside it. Changing linguistic style according to the environment (groups, public/private, formal/casual, high/low anxiety etc.) is called code switching. Intimate couples capitalise on the magic of code switching when they invent nicknames for each other that are incomprehensible for outsiders. If the code is broken by or leaked to outsiders, it could force the couple to break up.

Baby talk in family and plain first language outside may be the first lesson a parent can give about code switching, which is part of linguistic desirability.

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Postby gailr » Sun Apr 10, 2005 12:51 pm

Very well-said, Flam.
Intimate couples capitalise on the magic of code switching when they invent nicknames for each other that are incomprehensible for outsiders. If the code is broken by or leaked to outsiders, it could force the couple to break up.

The least successful publicly-broadcast nickname I have heard in this regard was, "babycakes". Image Deep down inside, I felt this couple should have been broken up before they bred more of their interlingual kind...

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