Child-directed speech

Child-directed speech is speech commonly used by parents or caregivers when communicating with children. (a full definition from the American Heritage Dictionary is at the end of the post).

As speech is one of the most important ways in which children learn to interact with the world, child-directed speech will be a common theme on this blog.  Our goal in this post is to give an overview. Factors we’ll consider include differences in speech among parents (e.g., fathers vs. mothers) and, more importantly, what characteristics of child-directed speech are important for rabid cognitive development in young children.

Characteristics of child-directed speech

The basic idea with child-directed speech is that parents modify their speech when talking to children.  An example of this is “motherese”, although the phenomenon occurs with fathers, child-care providers, and other caretakers.  A few characteristics of child-directed speech include:

  1. It is less complex than normal speech
  2. It is more exaggerated than normal speech.
  3. It may be higher pitch
  4. There are longer and more frequent pauses, and the rate of speech is slower
  5. There is a limited range of words, and special forms of words are used

(Field, 2004)

Finally, the full definition (in all its ad-laden glory in the original link) is here:

child-di·rect·ed speech…


Any of various speech patterns used by parents or caregivers when communicating with young children, particularly infants, usually involving simplified vocabulary, melodic pitch, repetitive questioning, and a slow or deliberate tempo.
Usage Note: Although motherese popularly describes the language patterns of mothers speaking to their infants, these patterns are not limited to them; therefore, child-language researchers often employ the term child-directed speech to include a wider range of speakers and addressees. Others use caregiver speech, which reflects a still wider range, or, less commonly, parentese.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Child-directed speech, Speech and Language. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Child-directed speech

  1. venus khaneja says:

    nice xplanation..

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