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The secret of baby talk and why dads don't do it

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Mothers like to babytalk to their offspring, speaking in higher-pitched voices with a wider range, and frequently switching between highs and lows.

This babytalk, sometimes called motherese, has been researched as part of studies in language acquisition from the point of view of the mother.

Now scientists have started looking at fathers who now sometimes end up being the main carers for their children.

The researchers from Washington State University are investigating whether fathers modify their speech in the same way as mothers when talking to their children.

The initial results suggest that fathers engage less in some of the intonational hallmarks of motherese, which some believe is part of the bonding process.

“This isn’t a bad thing at all — it’s not a failing of the fathers,” said Mark VanDam, a professor in the Speech and Hearing Sciences department at Washington State. “We think that maybe fathers are doing things that are conducive to their children’s learning but in a different way. The parents are complementary to their children’s language learning,”

There is a theory that fathers, by speaking to their children more like adults, might act as a link to the outside world by helping them to deal with unfamiliar speech.

The study will present findings at the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America this week in Pittsburgh.

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