Skip to main content Accessibility help

Entrainment of prosody in the interaction of mothers with their young children*


Caregiver speech is not a static collection of utterances, but occurs in conversational exchanges, in which caregiver and child dynamically influence each other's speech. We investigate (a) whether children and caregivers modulate the prosody of their speech as a function of their interlocutor's speech, and (b) the influence of the initiator of the conversation on durational characteristics of the exchange. We analyzed naturalistic conversations from 13 mother–infant/toddler dyads aged 12–30 months across full-day recordings of 3–5 days per dyad using LENA and automated analytic tools. We found small, but significant, effects of mothers and their children influencing each other's speech, particularly in pitch measures. We also found longer utterances and shorter response latencies for the initiator of a conversation. While mothers show more mature conversational capabilities (more entrainment, shorter response latencies), our findings converge with prior research to highlight the active role of young children in the conversational exchange.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Melanie Soderstrom, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB R3 T 2N2. e-mail:
Hide All

Eon-Suk Ko, Institute for Cognitive Science, Seoul National University; Amanda Seidl, Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, Purdue University; Alejandrina Cristia, Laboratoire de Science Cognitives et Psycholinguistiques, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Melissa Reimchen, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba; Melanie Soderstrom, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba. This research was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea Grant NRF-2014S1A5B5A02014474 to EK, and a SSHRC grant 430-2011-0459 to MS. AC acknowledges the institutional support of ANR-10-LABX-0087 and ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02.

Hide All
Baayen, R. H., Davidson, D. J. & Bates, D. M. (2008). Mixed-effects modeling with crossed random effects for subjects and items. Journal of Memory and Language 59, 390412.
Bates, D., Maechler, M. & Bolker, B. (2013). lme4: linear mixed-effects models using S4 classes, R package version 1.0-4. Online: <>.
Beebe, B., Alson, D., Jaffe, J., Feldstein, S. & Crown, C. L. (1988). Vocal congruence in mother–infant play. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 17, 245–59.
Begus, K., Gliga, T. & Southgage, V. (2014). Infants learn what they want to learn: responding to infant pointing leads to superior learning, PLoS ONE 9(10), online: <e108817.doi: 10·1371/journal.pone.0108817>.
Boersma, P. & Weenink, D. (2013). Praat: doing phonetics by computer [Computer program]. Version 5.3.39. Online: <>.
Brennan, S. E., Galati, A. & Kuhlen, A. K. (2010). Two minds, one dialog: coordinating speaking and understanding. Psychology of Learning and Motivation 53, 301–44.
Buder, E. H., Warlaumont, A. S., Oller, D. K. & Chorna, L. B. (2010). Dynamic indicators of mother–infant prosodic and illocutionary coordination. Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Speech Prosody. Online: <>.
Cristia, A. (2011). Fine-grained variation in caregivers’ /s/ predicts their infants’ /s/ category. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 129, 3271–80.
De Jong, N. H. & Wempe, T. (2009). Praat script to detect syllable nuclei and measure speech rate automatically. Behavior Research Methods 2, 385–90.
Edlund, J., Heldner, M. & Hirschberg, J. (2009). Pause and gap length in face-to-face interaction. Proceedings of Interspeech 2009, 10th Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association, Brighton, UK. Online: <>.
Elias, G. & Broerse, J. (1996). Developmental changes in the incidence and likelihood of simultaneous talk during the first two years: a question of function. Journal of Child Language 23(1), 201–17.
Feldstein, S., Jaffe, J., Beebe, B., Crown, C. L., Jasnow, M., Fox, H. & Gordon, S. (1993). Coordinated interpersonal timing in adult–infant vocal interactions: a cross-site replication. Infant Behavior and Development 16(4), 455–70.
Garvey, C. & Berninger, G. (1981). Timing and turn-taking in children's conversations. Discourse Processes 4, 2757.
Goldstein, M. H. & Schwade, J. A. (2008). Social feedback to infants’ babbling facilitates rapid phonological learning. Psychological Science 19(5), 515–23.
Gorisch, J., Wells, B. & Brown, G. J. (2012). Pitch contour matching and interactional alignment across turns: an acoustic investigation. Language and Speech 55(1), 5776.
Hart, B. & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experience of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H Brookes Publishing.
Hermes, D. & van Gestel, J. C. (1991). The frequency scale of speech intonation. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 90, 97102.
Hoff, E. & Naigles, L. (2002). How children use input to acquire a lexicon. Child Development 73(2), 418–33.
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), F319.
Jaffe, J., Beebe, B., Feldstein, S., Crown, C. L. & Jasnow, M. D. (2001). Rhythms of dialogue in infancy: coordinated timing in development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development Serial 66(2). Wiley. Article Stable URL: <>.
Jaffe, J. & Feldstein, S. (1970). Rhythms of dialogue. New York: Academic Press.
Levitan, R. & Hirschberg, J. (2011). Measuring acoustic-prosodic entrainment with respect to multiple levels and dimensions. Proceedings of Interspeech, 12th Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association, Florence, Italy. Online: <>.
Lieberman, A. F. & Garvey, C. (1977). Interpersonal pauses in preschoolers’ verbal exchanges. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, New Orleans, LA.
Masataka, N. (1992). Pitch characteristics of Japanese maternal speech to infants. Journal of Child Language 19, 213–23.
McRoberts, G. W. & Best, C. T. (1997). Accommodation in mean f0 during mother–infant and father–infant vocal interactions: a longitudinal case study. Journal of Child Language 24, 719–36.
Meltzoff, A. N. & Moore, M. K. (1977). Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science 198(4312), 75–8.
Pickering, M. J. & Garrod, S. (2004). Toward a mechanistic psychology of dialogue. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27, 169225.
R Core Team (2013). A language and environment for statistical computing, Version 3·0, R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Online: <>.
Shimura, Y. & Yamanoucho, I. (1992). Sound spectrographic studies on the relation between Motherese and pleasure vocalization in early infancy. Pediatrics International 34(3), 259–66.
Siegel, G. M., Cooper, M., Morgan, J. L. & Brenneise-Sarshad, R. (1990). Imitation of intonation by infants. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 33(1), 915.
Snow, C. E. (1977). The development of conversation between mothers and babies. Journal of Child Language 4(1), 122.
Soderstrom, M. & Wittebolle, K. (2013). When do caregivers talk? The influences of activity and time of day on caregiver speech and child vocalizations in two childcare environments. Plos One 8(11), e80646.
Stivers, T., Enfield, N. J., Brown, P., Englert, C., Hayashi, M., Heinemann, T., Hoymann, G., Rossano, F., de Ruiter, J. P., Yoon, K.-E. & Levinson, S. C. (2009). Universals and cultural variation in turn-taking in conversation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(26), 10587–10592.
Striano, T., Henning, A. & Stahl, D. (2006). Sensitivity to interpersonal timing at 3 and 6 months of age. Interaction Studies 7(2), 251–71.
Tice (Casillas), M., Bobb, S. & Clark, E. (2011). Timing in turn-taking: children's responses to their parents’ questions. Proceedings of the 15th Workshop on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Dialogue, Los Angeles, California, 202–203. Online: <>.
Zimmerman, F. J., Gilkerson, J., Richards, J. A., Christakis, D. A., Xu, D., Gray, S. & Yapanel, U. (2009). Teaching by listening: the importance of adult–child conversations to language development. Pediatrics 124(1), 342–9.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed