Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-n9wrp Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-16T15:57:51.798Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Parents' child-directed communication and child language development: a longitudinal study with Italian toddlers

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 August 2012

Department of Philosophy, Education and Psychology, University of Verona
Department of Psychology, University of Parma
Department of Psychology, University of Parma
[*]Address for correspondence: Marinella Majorano, Dipartimento di Filosofia, Pedagogia, Psicologia, Università di Verona, Via San Francesco, 22, 37129 Verona. tel. 0458028372; e-mail:


The present study focuses on the characteristics of parental child-directed communication and its relationship with child language development. For this purpose, thirty-six toddlers (18 males and 18 females) and their parents were observed in a laboratory during triadic free play at ages 1 ; 3 and 1 ; 9. The characteristics of the maternal and paternal child-directed language (characteristics of communicative functions and lexicon as reported in psycholinguistic norms for Italian language) were coded during free play. Child language development was assessed during free play and at ages 2 ; 6 and 3 ; 0 using the Italian version of the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory (2 ; 6) and the revised Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-R) (3 ; 0). Data analysis indicated differences between mothers and fathers in the quantitative characteristics of communicative functions and language, such as the mean length of utterances (MLU), and the number of tokens and types. Mothers also produced the more frequent nouns in the child lexicon. There emerged a relation between the characteristics of parental child-directed language and child language development.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Barnes, S., Gutfreund, M., Satterly, D. & Wells, G. (1983). Characteristics of adult speech which predict children's language development. Journal of Child Language 10, 6584.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Beals, D. E. (1997). Sources of support for learning words in conversation: Evidence from mealtimes. Journal of Child Language 24(3), 673–94.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bornstein, M. H., Haynes, O. M. & Painter, K. M. (1998). Sources of child vocabulary competence: A multivariate model. Journal of Child Language 25, 367–93.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bornstein, M. H., Tal, J., Rahn, C., Galperin, C., Pecheux, M., Lamour, M., Toda, S., Azuma, H., Ogino, M. & Tamis-Lemonda, C. (1992). Functional analysis of the content of maternal speech to infants of 5 and 13 months in four cultures: Argentina, France, Japan, and the United States. Developmental Psychology 28, 593603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brent, M. & Siskind, J. M. (2001). The role of exposure to isolated words in early vocabulary development. Cognition 81, B33B44.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Brown, R. (1973). A first language: The early stages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cabrera, N. J., Shannon, J. E. & Tamis-LeMonda, C. S. (2007). Fathers' influence on their children's cognitive and emotional development: From toddlers to pre-K. Applied Developmental Science 11(4), 208213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cabrera, N. J., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Bradley, R. H., Hofferth, S. & Lamb, M. E. (2000). Fatherhood in the twenty-first century. Child Development 71, 127–36.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Caselli, M. C. & Casadio, P. (1995). Il primo vocabolario del bambino. Guida all'uso del Questionario MacArthur per la valutazione della comunicazione e del linguaggio nei primi anni di vita. Milano: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
Clark, H. H. & Murphy, G. L. (1983). Audience design in meaning and reference. In LeNy, J. F. & Kintsch, W. (eds), Language and comprehension, 287–99. Amsterdam: North-Holland Publishing Company.Google Scholar
Cleveland, A., Schug, M. & Striano, T. (2007). Joint attention and object learning in 5- and 7-month-old infants. Infant and Child Development 16, 295306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Conner, D. B., Knight, D. K. & Cross, D. R. (1997). Mothers' and fathers' scaffolding of their 2-year-olds during problem-solving and literacy interactions. British Journal of Developmental Psychology 15, 323–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
D'Odorico, L., Carubbi, S., Salerni, N. & Calvo, V. (2001). Vocabulary development in Italian children: A longitudinal evaluation of quantitative and qualitative aspects. Journal of Child Language 28(2), 351–72.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
D'Odorico, L. & Fasolo, M. (2007). Nouns and verbs in the vocabulary acquisition of Italian children. Journal of Child Language 34(4), 891907.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
D'Odorico, L. & Jacob, V. (2006). Prosodic and lexical aspects of maternal linguistic input to late-talking toddlers. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders 41(3), 293311.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
D'Odorico, L., Salerni, N., Cassibba, L. & Jacob, V. (1999). Stability and change of maternal speech in Italian infants from 7 to 21 month of age: A longitudinal study of its influence on early stages of language acquisition. First Language 57(19), 313–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Mauro, T., Mancini, F., Vedovelli, M. & Voghera, M. (1993). Lessico di frequenza dell'italiano parlato. Milano: Etaslibri.Google Scholar
Della Corte, M., Benedict, H. & Klein, D. (1983). The relationship of pragmatic dimensions of mothers' speech to the referential–expressive distinction. Journal of Child Language 10, 3543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Feldman, R. & Masalha, S. (2010). Parent–child and triadic antecedents of children's social competence: Cultural specificity, shared process. Developmental Psychology 46, 455–67.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fernald, A. & Kuhl, P. (1987). Acoustic determinants of infant preference for motherese speech. Infant Behavior and Development 10, 279–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fernald, A., Taeschner, T., Dunn, J. & Papousek, M. (1989). A cross-language study of prosodic modifications in mothers' and fathers' speech to preverbal infants. Journal of Child Language 16, 477501.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Golinkoff, R. M. & Ames, G. (1979). A comparison of fathers' and mothers' speech with their young children. Child Development 50, 2832.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guzell, J. R. & Vernon-Feagans, L. (2004). Parental perceived control over caregiving and its relationship to parent–infant interaction. Child Development 75, 134–46.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hart, B. & Risley, T. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.Google Scholar
Hobson, R. P., Patrick, M. P. H., Crandell, L. E., Garcia-Perez, R. M., & Lee, A. (2004). Maternal sensitivity and infant triadic communication. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45, 470–80.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hoff, E. & Naigles, L. (2002). How children use input to acquire lexicon. Child Development 73(4), 418–33.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hoff-Ginsberg, E. (1991). Mother–child conversation in different social classes and communicative settings. Child Development 62, 782–96.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hurtado, N., Marchman, V. A. & Fernald, A. (2008). Does input influence uptake? Links between maternal talk, processing speed and vocabulary size in Spanish-learning children. Developmental Science 11(6), F31F39.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Huttenlocher, J., Vasilyeva, M., Cymerman, E. & Levine, S. C. (2002). Language input at home and at school: Relation to syntax. Cognitive Psychology 45(3), 337–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Keren-Portnoy, T., Majorano, M. & Vihman, M. M. (2009). From phonetics to phonology: The emergence of first words in Italian. Journal of Child Language 36, 235–67.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kuhl, P. K., Andruski, J. E., Chistovich, I. A., Chistovich, L. A., Kozhevnikova, E. V., Ryskina, V. L., Stolyarova, E. I., Sundberg, U. & Lacerda, F. (1997). Cross-language analysis of phonetic units in language addressed to infants. Science 277, 684–86.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kuhl, P. K., Conboy, B. T., Padden, D., Nelson, T. & Pruitt, J. (2005). Early speech perception and later language development: Implications for the ‘critical period’. Language Learning and Development 1(3/4), 237–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lamb, M. E. & Tamis-LeMonda, C. S. (2004). The role of the father. In Lamb, M. E. (ed.), The role of the father in child development, 131. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc.Google Scholar
Laudanna, A., Thornton, A. M., Brown, G., Burani, C. & Marconi, L. (1995). Un corpus dell'italiano scritto contemporaneo dalla parte del ricevente. In Bolasco, S., Lebart, L. & Salem, A. (eds), 3rd International Conference on Statistical Analysis of Textual Data, vol. 1, 103109. Roma: CISU.Google Scholar
Leaper, C., Anderson, K. J. & Sanders, P. (1998). Moderators of gender effects on parents' talk to their children: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology 34(1), 327.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Levelt, W. J. M., Roelofs, A. & Meyer, A. S. (1999). A theory of lexical access in speech production. Behavioral & Brain Sciences 22, 175.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Liu, H. M., Kuhl, P. K. & Tsao, F. M. (2003). An association between mothers' speech clarity and infants' speech discrimination skills. Developmental Science 6(3), 110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Longobardi, E. (1992). Funzione comunicativa del comportamento materno e sviluppo comunicativo-linguistico del bambino nel secondo anno di vita. Giornale Italiano di Psicologia 3, 425–48.Google Scholar
Longobardi, E. & Camaioni, L. (2002). Dominanza di verbi vs. nomi nel discorso di madri italiane: ruolo del contesto e dell'età del bambino. Rivista di Linguistica 14, 8598.Google Scholar
MacWhinney, B. (1997). Il progetto CHILDES: strumenti per l'analisi del linguaggio parlato, Italian edn eds: Pizzuto, E. & Bortolini, U.. Tirrenia, Pisa: Edizioni del Cerro.Google Scholar
Marconi, L., Ott, M., Pesenti, E., Ratti, D. & Tavella, M. (1994). Lessico elementare: dati statistici sull'italiano scritto e letto dai bambini delle elementari. Bologna: Zanichelli.Google Scholar
Masur, E. F., Flynn, V. & Eichorst, D. (2005). Maternal responsive and directive behaviours and utterances as predictors of children's lexical development. Journal of Child Language 32, 6391.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Matthews, D., Lieven, E., Theakston, A. & Tomasello, M. (2005). The role of frequency in the acquisition of English word order. Cognitive Development 20, 121–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCabe, A. & Peterson, C. (1997). Meaningful ‘mistakes’: The systematicity of children's connectives in narrative discourse and the social origins of this usage about the past. In Costermans, J. & Fayol, M. (eds), Processing interclausal relationships: Studies in the production and comprehension of text, 139–54. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
McLaughlin, B., White, D., McDevitt, T. & Raskin, R. (1983). Mothers' and fathers' speech to their young children: Similar or different? Journal of Child Language 10, 245–52.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Olswang, L., Stoel-Gammon, C., Coggins, T. & Carpenter, R. (1987). Assessing prelinguistic and early linguistic behaviors in low functioning children. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
Pan, B. A., Rowe, M. L., Singer, J. D. & Snow, C. E. (2005). Maternal correlates of growth in toddler vocabulary production in low-income families. Child Development 76(4), 763–82.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pancsofar, N. & Vernon-Feagans, L. (2006). Mother and father language input to young children: Contributions to later language development. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 27, 571–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pancsofar, N. & Vernon-Feagans, L. (2010). Fathers' early contributions to children's language development in families from low-income rural communities. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 25, 450–63.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Ratner, N. B. (1988). Patterns of parental vocabulary selection in speech to very young children. Journal of Child Language 15, 481–92.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Ratner, N. B. & Bruner, J. (1978). Games, social exchange, and the acquisition of language. Journal of Child Language 5, 391402.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rinaldi, P., Barca, L. & Burani, C. (2004). A database for semantic, grammatical and frequency properties of the first words acquired by Italian children. Behavior Research Methods Instruments & Computers 36(3), 525–30.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rondal, J. A. (1980). Fathers' and mothers' speech in early language development. Journal of Child Language 7, 353–69.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rowe, M. L., Coker, D. & Pan, B. A. (2004). A comparison of fathers' and mothers' talk to toddlers in low-income families. Social Development 13, 278–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Saracho, O. (2002). Family literacy: Exploring family practices. Early Child Development and Care 172(2), 113–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shannon, J., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., London, K. & Cabrera, N. (2002). Beyond rough and tumble: Low-income fathers' interactions and children's cognitive development at 24 months. Parenting: Science and Practice 2, 77104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Snow, C. E. (1985). Conversations with children. In Fletcher, P. & Garman, M. (eds), Language Acquisition, 2nd edn.363–75. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Snow, C. E. (1996). Change in child language and child linguists. In Coleman, H. & Cameron, L. (eds), Change and language (Proceedings, British Association of Applied Linguistics), 7588. Clevedon: British Association for Applied Linguists.Google Scholar
Stella, G., Pizzoli, C. & Tressoldi, P. E. (2000). Il Peabody Test. Test di vocabolario recettivo. Torino: Omega.Google Scholar
Stevens, E., Blake, J., Vitale, G. & MacDonald, S. (1998). Mother–infant object involvement at 9 to 15 months: Relation to infant cognition and early vocabulary. First Language 18, 203222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tamis-LeMonda, C., Shannon, J., Cabrera, N. & Lamb, M. (2004). Fathers and mothers at play with their 2- and 3-Year-Olds: Contributions to language and cognitive development. Child Development 75, 1806–820.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Tomasello, M. (1992). First verbs: A case study of early grammatical development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Tomasello, M. (2006). Acquiring linguistic constructions. In Kuhn, D. & Siegler, R. (eds), Handbook of child psychology, 255–98. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
Tomasello, M. & Farrar, M. J. (1986). Joint attention and early language. Child Development 57(6), 1454–63.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Van Veen, R., Evers-Vermeul, J., Sanders, T. & Van den Bergh, H. (2009). Parental input and connective acquisition: A growth curve analysis. First Language 29(3), 266–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weizman, Z. O. & Snow, C. E. (2001). Lexical input as related to children's vocabulary acquisition: Effects of sophisticated exposure and support for meaning. Developmental Psychology 37, 265–79.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Werker, J. F. & Tees, R. C. (1999). Influences on infant speech processing: Toward a new synthesis. Annual Review of Psychology 50, 509535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Westerlund, M. & Lagerberg, D. (2008). Expressive vocabulary in 18-month-old children in relation to demographic factors, mother and child characteristics, communication style and shared reading. Child: Care, Health and Development 34(2), 257–66.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Wijnen, F., Kempen, M. & Gillis, S. (2001). Root infinitives in Dutch early child language: An effect of input? Journal of Child Language 28, 629–60.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Zevin, J. D. & Seidenberg, M. S. (2004). Age of acquisition effects in reading aloud: Tests of cumulative frequency and frequency trajectory. Memory & Cognition 32, 3138.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed