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Maternal speech to three-month-old infants in the United States and Japan*

  • Suero Toda (a1), Alan Fogel (a2) and Masatoshi Kawai (a3)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 February 2009

An American-Japanese comparison of maternal speech to 3-month-old infants is presented. Mother-infant dyads were videotaped in the laboratory, and the maternal speech was analysed by function and syntactic form. US mothers were more information-oriented than were Japanese mothers; they also used more question forms, especially yes/no questions. Japanese mothers were affect-oriented, and they used more nonsense, onomatopoeic sounds, baby talk, and babies' names. The differences between countries in maternal speech addressed to 3-month-olds appear to reflect characteristic culture-specific communicative styles as well as beliefs and values related to childrearing.

Corresponding author
NIH, Building 31, Room B2–B15, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA
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Portions of this paper were presented at the Southeastern Conference on Human Development, 1988. The research was supported by a Visiting Fellowship at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the first author. It was also funded by a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship awarded to the second author, by the Department of Educational Psychology of Nagoya University, and by a Hatch Act grant from the Purdue University Agricultural Experiment Station. The authors wish to thank the coders, assistants, and subjects who participated in this study. We are grateful to E. Nwokah for her assistance in coding maternal speech. We thank M. Bornstein for comments.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

W. Caudill (1973). The influence of social structure and culture on human behavior in modern Japan. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 157. 240–57.

J. J. Chew (1969). The structure of Japanese baby talk. Newsletter of the Association of Japanese Teachers 6. 417.

M. Conroy , R. Hess , H. Azuma & K. Kashiwagi (1980). Maternal strategies for regulating children's behavior: Japanese and American families. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 11. 153–72.

A. Fogel , S. Toda & M. Kawai (1988). Mother-infant face-to-face interaction in Japan and the United States: a laboratory comparison using 3-month-old infants. Developmental Psychology 24. 398406.

H. Keller & A. Scholmerich (1987). Infant vocalizations and parental rections during the first four months of life. Developmental Psychology 23. 62–7.

H. Kojima (1986 b). Japanese concepts of child development from the mid-17th to mid-19th century. International Journal of Behavioral Development 9. 315–29.

H. Morsbach (1973). Aspects of nonverbal communication in Japan. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 157. 262–77.

M. Otaki , M. Durrett , P. Richards , L. Nyquist & J. Pennebaker (1986). Maternal and infant behavior in Japan and America: a partial replication. Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology 17. 251–68.

J. Phillips (1973). Syntax and vocabulary of mothers' speech to young children: age and sex comparisons. Child Development 44. 182–5.

N. Shand & Y. Kosawa (1985). Japanese and American behavior types at three months: infants and infant-mother dyads. Infant Behavior and Development 8. 225–40.

D. N. Stern , S. Spieker & K. MacKain (1982). Intonation contours as signals in maternal speech to pre-linguistic infants. Developmental Psychology 18. 727–35.

M. Stevenson , J. Ver Hoeve , M. Roach & L. Leavitt (1986). The beginning of conversation: early patterns of mother-infant vocal responsiveness. Infant Behavior and Development 9. 423–40.

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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
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