Child Directed Speech
Quick revise


  • Separate phrases more distinctly, leaving longer pauses between them.
  • Speak more s-l-o-w-l-y.
  • Use exaggerated  ‘singsong’ intonation, which helps to emphasise key words.  Also to exaggerate the difference between questions, statements and commands.
  • Use a higher and wider pitch range.

Lexis and semantics

  • Use of concrete nouns (cat, train) and dynamic verbs (give, put).
  • Adopt child’s own words for things (doggie, wickle babbit).
  • Frequent use of child’s name and an absence of pronouns.


  • Simpler constructions
  • Frequent use of imperatives
  • High degree of repetition
  • Use of personal names instead of pronouns (e.g. ‘Mummy’ not ‘I’)
  • Fewer verbs, modifiers and adjectives

Large number of one-word utterances

  • Deixis used to point child’s attention to objects or people
  • Repeated sentence frames eg. “that’s a ……”
  • Use more simple sentences and fewer complex and passives.
  • Omission of past tenses, inflections (plurals and possessives).
  • Use more commands, questions and tag questions.
  • Use of EXPANSIONS – where the adult fills out the child’s utterance.
  • Use of RE-CASTINGS – where the child’s vocabulary is put into a new utterance.


  • Lots of gesture and warm body language.
  • Fewer utterances per turn – stopping frequently for child to respond.
  • Supportive language (expansions and re-castings).

Are there are variations due to the gender of the caregiver?

Research has suggested that fathers are more demanding than mothers, using more direct questions and a wider range of vocabulary.

What effects do you think this kind of speech has on children?

Some claim that it retains the attention of the child, others that it makes language more accessible. Some claim that children learn by repetition – can this explain the fact that children can produce sentences which they have never heard before?

Others claim that ‘babytalk’ actually interferes with language development because children learn babyish words and sentences instead of the real language.

Not every culture uses such forms of child-directed speech. In Samoa and Papua New Guinea, adults speak to children as they speak to adults, and children acquire language at the same pace as elsewhere.

Features and purposes of Child Directed Speech

CDS aims to:

  • Attract and hold the baby’s attention.
  • Help the process of braking down language into understandable chunks.
  • Make the conversation more predictable by referring to the here-and-now.


Clarke-Stewart (1973)

Found that children whose mothers talk more have larger vocabularies.

Katherine Nelson (1973)

Found that children at the holophrastic stage whose mothers corrected them on word choice and pronunciation actually advanced more slowly than those with mothers who were generally accepting.

(Brown, Cazden and Bellugi 1969)

Found that parents often respond to the TRUTH value of what their baby is saying, rather than its grammatical correctness.  For example, a parent is more likely to respond to “there doggie” with “Yes, it’s a dog!” than “No, it’s there is a dog.”

Berko and Brown (1960)

Brown spoke to a child who referred to a “fis” meaning “fish”.  Brown replied using “fis” and the child corrected him again but saying “fis”.  Finally Brown reverted to “fish” to which the child responded “Yes, fis.”  This shows that babies do not hear themselves in the same way that they hear others and no amount of correction will change this.

Child Directed Speech – some conclusions

  • Recent research argues the CDS doesn’t directly help babies learn language, instead it helps parents communicate with children = its purpose is social rather than educational.
  • In some cultures (non-western) babies are expected to blend in with adult interaction and no special accommodation is made in speech addressed to them.  These children still go through the same developmental stages at roughly the same time as long as there is EXPOSURE to language.  However Clark & Clark’s research suggests that children who are only exposed to adult speech do not acquire the same standard of language as those whose parents speak to them directly in a modified manner.
  • The older argument that baby-talk is ‘harmful’ to a child learning a new language is being replaced.  People now think it’s beneficial to the child.
  • A child’s language improves when in contact with an adult who speaks to them directly.

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