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AstroChuck's avatar

Why do people use "baby talk" when speaking to pets and children?

Asked by AstroChuck (37385points) May 19th, 2009 from iPhone

We use a certain cadence with our peers that we don’t use with our kids or Fido. Adults tend to speak in a higher pitch and more slowly with animals and young ones. Why do we do this?

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49 Answers

hannahsugs's avatar

I don’t know exactly why, but I can give you a little more information about the phenomenon. The tone of voice adults use when talking to babies is formally known as IDT, for Infant-Directed Talk. Informally, it’s known as Motherese or Parentese. It occurs in almost all cultures and languages, and therefore seems to be “innate”, whatever that means. Studies have shown that babies listen more carefully to adults who are speaking in this manner, and some people think that this aids cognitive development of infants.

More here

peyton_farquhar's avatar

Becaws they’re so keeeewt!
Isn’t you? Isn’t you? Yes you is!

tinyfaery's avatar

I do not talk to babies or children in baby talk. I absolutely HATE that. I do talk to my animals, and other people’s animals, in a high-pitched, sing-song type voice. They like it, and tend to respond more when I talk to them in a baby voice than in my regular voice.

Myndecho's avatar

I have heard it help them understand words easier because with baby talk as you say pronounces the stresses and all the syllables clearly.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Ditto what @hannahsugs said.

And actually I took a cognitive development class and research indicates that Motherese is very helpful to cognitive development. It may sound annoying but it is quite good. << I hope flutherites read this because although it is quite annoying and seems contradictory to common sense it is helpful to your children.

It is much easier to understand because of the
a) high pitch
b) the breaking up of the words ba-by bo-ttle ba-ba
c) the simplification of words
(oh and i believe there are a few other reasons as well but cannot recall at this time)

jbfletcherfan's avatar

@tinyfaery I agree. We never talked baby talk with our girls or any of the grandkids. That kind of crap just makes me want to puke. How can they learn correct vocabulary if they’re constantly being talked down to? And it makes the adult look like an idiot!

RareDenver's avatar

Because they are fucking idiots

charliecompany34's avatar

good question, my little chuckie wuckie—jesh you are, jesh you are!

well, probably because we feel these two beings, human or canine, are lower than us on the food chain. because either of the two can’t possibly know all that we do, we patronize dogs and babies who, in my opinion, would rather we talk normally.

i talk to my dog max like he is a human being. my oldest son will actually ask me who am i talking to because he doesn’t believe in having a conversation with a dog. but actually dogs really do sense you are treating them like a part of the family.

Sakata's avatar

Don’t forget about the elderly. I hear more old people get spoken to in baby talk than I do babies. When I’m 70+ if someone tries that shit I’m going to punch them in the throat. Who are they going to whine to that would care?

Guy1: “I just got beat up by a 75 year old man.”
Guy 2: “Ha ha ha. You’re a pussy.”

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Sakata Now that I do find disrespectful.

Or how about this one. One someone doesn’t speak English well people speak louder to them. Haha

Sakata's avatar

lol… I love that

Apsaras's avatar

Animals and babies can’t understand exact words, but they can determine intent. A dog that’s scolded will whimper or whine – a dog that’s “baby talked” to will be happy and may bathe your face in saliva.

It’s just another means of communication – since words are ineffective, use tone instead.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I’ll admit to speaking like that to my dog but not to babies and never to an elder.

DarkScribe's avatar

I don’t use baby talk ever, nor does my wife, but we both talk to our dog and cat. The dog understands everything – in fact my wife commenting yesterday that the dog is learning to spell, as when she doesn’t want to know something she spells it – but he has caught on. The cat is pretty good, trained nearly as well as most dogs, but far more disobedient. The cat responds mostly to sign language, and the dog to both speech and sign language. The cat amuses visitors when I see it heading for something it shouldn’t be touching and I say “Don’t even think about it Cat!” and the cat responds by doing an instant U-turn and sauntering off in another direction. Cats are sneaky.

SuperMouse's avatar

People do it to the disabled too to a extent. Even though my man’s disability is clearly physical, not mental, and even though it is very clear that he can see and hear well, people tend to talk to him very loudly and very slowly. I spend a lot of time wanting to smack people.

I tend not to speak to my kids that way. It just sounds kind of silly to me. Jack the Pug looks would probably look at me as if I’d lost my mind if I took that tone with him!

DrasticDreamer's avatar

Because it does help with cognitive development. Only for a certain amount of time, obviously. You wouldn’t talk to a five-year-old in baby talk, unless you have no idea how intelligent children are by that age. But talking like that to an actual baby does wonders for them.

loser's avatar

I don’t do it with kids because I don’t want them to learn to talk that way but I do talk silly with dogs. The timbre of the voice makes them feel more at ease.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

ha because the pitch of your voice is more important than the actual words you are saying. talk all goofy and silly with a baby or to a dog and they get all excited and smile and what not. well, dogs usually dont smile. Either way that’s why we do it, just to show attention and affection to someone or something that does not understand much else.

AstroChuck's avatar

What I really mean by “baby talk” is the pitch and tone difference, not necessarily “Is you a cutie? Yes you is, yes you is!” Let me give you an example what I’m trying to say.
Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time. How do you ask them their name? You just ask in a normal tone of voice, “So, what’s your name?”
Now imagine you are meeting a three year old little girl. How do you ask? You say, “Hi. What’s your name?” or “What’s your name, sweetheart?” with the emphasis on your. You have a different resonance with a child, a little higher pitch and perhaps in a somewhat musical, sing-songy way.
Same thing with pets. “Hi, little guy. What are you called?”
Everybody does this. Just wondering the reason.

Sakata's avatar

I had just gotten out of the Army when my first son was born so I had too much testosterone to do any form of baby talk with him. I always spoke to him as if he were an adult. I’ve been told by everyone who’s ever spoke with him that they could easily mistake him for an adult based on his speech and vocabulary. He’s 9.

My youngest son, however, spent a lot of time with his great aunt when he was very young. All she ever did was speak to him in baby talk. He has a slight speech impediment and a street-smart vocabulary. He’s 7.

I’ve always been against baby talk and the difference between my boys is a great argument supporting my personal reasoning. I know it takes more than 2 test subjects to prove something but the two I have are substantial enough for me.

Sakata's avatar

@AstroChuck Oh, I’ve always called that “little kid-talk” and, yea, I do that when a kid is 4 or younger. As far as why… well for me it’s so that specific kid knows I’m not yelling at them like I usually am at all the other kids in the neighborhood :)

My yard is the main play area for ALL OF THEM… it’s horrible

casheroo's avatar

I don’t know, maybe it’s some sort of instinct?

I don’t talk baby talk, I can’t stand it.

I do know, for my son to grasp words, he needs it repeated. So, we say the word twice for him, and he gets it. I’m not sure why, it seems to just be how he learns, but since we’ve figured it out, his speech has exploded.
I will admit, I give my kitty cats nicknames, not sure if that counts as baby talk though. Examples being “Spency bency” “Henny Benny”

wundayatta's avatar

What language should I speak to my pets with? Swahili? Navaho?

Jokerlover's avatar

I guess it’s because they are so much smaller then us and they seem so cute and harmless.

tinyfaery's avatar

Sweetheart? Blech.

I do not talk to kids like that. I speak to everyone the same.

AstroChuck's avatar

@tinyfaery- Nobody does that. I have difficulty believing you’d use exactly the same tone and cadence with a toddler as you would with some forty year old.

tinyfaery's avatar

@AstroChuck First, I do whatever I can to stay away from toddlers, and I do not coo, or feel anything really, when I look at babies. If you need proof I can give you the phone numbers of my niece and nephew and some people who have become irritated with me because I did/do not talk to their kids (below the age of 5 or so), and when I do, I speak just like I would to you.

I really must not have the nurturing gene. Can I nurture my cats?

Jeruba's avatar

I do not. Baby talk makes me gag. I spoke to my children in a normal tone—gently, and with simple language, but no shrill baby voice or baby talk for me. And I gave them real names for things. As a result I most thankfully never had to listen to them ask for a baw-baw or tell me they had a boo-boo (or an “owie”!) or wanted to go bye-bye. They did use their own names for things they couldn’t say, and I responded to them but I didn’t use them back—I continued to use the correct word.

My children had exceptionally large vocabularies by the age of two and were extremely competent with speech well ahead of most of their age-mates. They grew up to be confident, articulate speakers.

AstroChuck's avatar

Again, I guess I shouldn’t have used the term “baby talk.” I didn’t really mean the cooing and the little cutsie talk. I was just referring to the style of speech.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I just want to mention that children who have large vocabularies do not have them because of lack of baby talk. That is contrary to the evidence. They have them because they have intelligent parents. In fact the evidence suggests that if these children would have had baby talk their vocabulary would have came sooner.

elijah's avatar

I change my tone when talking to little children or animals. I think it’s because they are so sweet and innocent you just want to soothe them and not scare them. I didn’t use baby talk words with my kids most the time. A bottle was a bottle. They would say doggy or kitty or horsey instead of dog and cat or horse. This was when they were like two.

Kap89's avatar

well when i talk to my pets when i talk in a baby voice or funny voice, they turn their heads to the side, and I THINK ITS SO CUTEEEEE

mattbrowne's avatar

Mirror neurons.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@mattbrowne Care to enlighten us?

amoreno06's avatar

hm…i’ve noticed that the guys i’m around with, whenever they’re on the phone, being “polite”, they always speak in a higher pitch also.
i find that odd.
maybe you’re trying to make yourself sound less threatening?

Strauss's avatar

My youngest is nine, so the baby talk is mostly gone. What remains are what i would call “fun” or “family-code” words. Example: when she was younger (3–4) pajamas were “jammies”, and when it was time to get dressed for bed, the code word was “jammies on”, which evolved to a “fun code” of “jammi-san”(in mock japanese accent).

As for the dog, she quickly learned the meaning of “walk” and “leash”, and it wasn’t long after that she also knew what we meant by “the W word” and “the L word”.

mattbrowne's avatar

@RedPowerLady – Sure. Please note that the functions of mirror neurons are not a proven theory yet, but there are several very interesting hypotheses related to them based on empirical evidence. Let’s start with a definition and a general description.

A mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another animal (especially by another animal of the same species). Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting. Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important findings of neuroscience in the last decade.

Mirror neurons have been interpreted as the mechanism by which we simulate others in order to better understand them, and therefore their discovery has been taken by some as a validation of simulation theory.

Mirror neurons also explain why yawning is contagious. There are some studies analyzing baby talk between two adults who are in love:

Psychologists consider lovers’ babytalk a real and valid form of bonding. A study by Meredith Bombar and Lawrence Littig suggests it’s a good sign: Babytalkers were more secure and less avoidant in romantic relationships. In effect they’re reactivating primal circuits of attachment. Babytalking lovers get a blast of dopamine and oxytocin in areas of the brain involved in reward and bonding — the ventral tegmental area, orbitofrontal cortex, and anterior cingulate cortex. According to psychologists, mutual use of high-pitched voices, soothing whispers, cooing, lisping, and overexpressive faces is a way of “looping” or “mirroring” affection. Exclusive and intimate, it’s an act of trust-building.

Mirror neurons are a fascinating subject of ongoing research. We can expect more surprises and more revelations !

tinyfaery's avatar

@mattbrowne That’s cool. But, I baby talk with my wife and my pets, but NEVER with children. Never. People have always thought it was a very strange trait of mine. What could explain this?

mattbrowne's avatar

@tinyfaery – How old are the children?

tinyfaery's avatar

Babies and toddlers. I talk to them just like anyone else. Hey, what’s up kid? I say this to the under the age of 4 children in my family.

mattbrowne's avatar

I see. Well, the way I understand it it’s all about emotional resonance. You seem out of sync or maybe tuned to the wrong frequency and your mirror neurons might need some recalibration. Ever tried 98.9 MHz? I’m just kidding. Let me think about it some more.

casheroo's avatar

@tinyfaery I don’t think I have ever spoken baby talk to my son. I’d feel pretty ridiculous if I did it. I do get a more high pitched voice, but I think that might be an instinct.

tinyfaery's avatar

And I have no feelings whatsoever when I look at babies. Most women coo and gush. I turn the other way.

AstroChuck's avatar

tinyfaery: baby hater.

elijah's avatar

Dont worry about it tiny, I don’t like most sticky brats I meet either. I do love babies though.

tinyfaery's avatar

I am astro. It’s a quality I’ve always had. Even when my neice and nephew were babies, I wanted little to do with them.

I truly think I am missing some sort nurturing gene. Really.

AstroChuck's avatar

You know, I was a baby once. :(

RedPowerLady's avatar

@mattbrowne Thank you very much. That was fascinating!

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