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

  • Steven L. ELMLINGER (a1), Jennifer A. SCHWADE (a1) and Michael H. GOLDSTEIN (a1)

Abstract

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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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: E-mail: mhg26@cornell.edu

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