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The ecology of prelinguistic vocal learning: parents simplify the structure of their speech in response to babbling

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 July 2019

Department of Psychology, Cornell University, USA
Jennifer A. SCHWADE
Department of Psychology, Cornell University, USA
Department of Psychology, Cornell University, USA
*Corresponding author: E-mail:


What is the function of babbling in language learning? We examined the structure of parental speech as a function of contingency on infants’ non-cry prelinguistic vocalizations. We analyzed several acoustic and linguistic measures of caregivers’ speech. Contingent speech was less lexically diverse and shorter in utterance length than non-contingent speech. We also found that the lexical diversity of contingent parental speech only predicted infant vocal maturity. These findings illustrate a new form of influence infants have over their ambient language in everyday learning environments. By vocalizing, infants catalyze the production of simplified, more easily learnable language from caregivers.

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