‘Baby talk’ is hot topic of debate

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DEAR ABBY: I must respond to the letters you printed directing parents not to use “baby talk” with their infants. Some of the writers suggested that research shows that “baby talk” is harmful to a child’s language development – and that is patently false. I am a developmental psychologist and teach about the concept of baby talk as infant-directed speech, so let me clear up what seems to be a misunderstanding.

What research actually shows is that infant-directed speech (which is high-pitched, sing-song, repetitive and drawn out) is the type of speech that infants in their first year of life not only hear better but also the language to which they are most responsive. In the first year, speaking to infants in a way that gets a response is far more important than using “proper” adult grammar and words. It’s not so much what parents say as that they say anything at all. So please, encourage parents to use “baby talk” with their infants all they wish in the first year.

Using “baby talk” beyond one year is probably not the best idea, but it’s less worrisome than some of your letter writers seem to think. – DR. SAUNDRA K. CICCARELLI, PANAMA CITY, FLA.

DEAR DR. CICCARELLI: Thank you for the professional input, but from the mail I have received since that column ran, I must say that “Abby-wabby” now knows there’s no consensus on this subject. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: As the mother of three gifted children and a speech/language pathologist, my advice is to stop the baby talk immediately! My children were spoken to in complete sentences and with normal intonation from the time they were born. My son spoke in complete sentences at 10 months. He was a spontaneous reader at 2, and began college at the ripe old age of 14. My 18-year-old daughter is a junior in college. Talking “baby talk” to children can retard their language development. – DEBRA G., BEAUMONT, TEXAS

DEAR ABBY: As a language teacher, I know the natural importance of baby talk. All languages have a form of “baby talk,” and it all serves the same purpose: to help a child form its language patterns. Just because some parents foolishly continue the use of baby talk long after its required time is no reason to “throw out the baby talk with the bathwater!” And language such as “Me talk pretty” and “Me go home” are NOT examples of baby talk. They are just poor uses of English grammar. – ROBERT RAYMOND, MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY

DEAR ABBY: I am a speech/language pathologist and believe that baby talk should never, ever be considered. If you choose to “baby talk,” you place your child at risk academically and socially. The ramifications are tremendous and long-lasting. I recommend modeling and using verbally descriptive and inquisitive language that is age-appropriate. Your child will reap the benefits. – CONCERNED IN THE CENTRAL COAST

DEAR ABBY: Many young parents now teach their babies sign language, starting as newborns, helping them communicate before they learn the spoken word. By about 9 months, the child gets the concept and soon learns how to “sign” words such as “more,” “help,” “milk,” “sorry” and “thank you.” The child is happier because his/her needs are communicated without frustration.

Both of my grandsons have learned to sign, and recently I was tickling my 14-month-old grandson, trying to get him to smile. He looked at his mother and signed “help” and “all through”! Pretty clever putting two thoughts together to tell his mom to get Grammy to back off, huh? – PROUD GRAMMY IN SANTA BARBARA

DEAR PROUD GRAMMY: I’m sure he had a few other thoughts to offer, but fortunately he didn’t have the vocabulary!

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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