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The prosody of maternal speech: infant age and context related changes*

  • D. N. Stern (a1), S. Spieker (a1), R. K. Barnett (a1) and K. MacKain (a1)


The speech of 6 mothers to their healthy infants was examined longitudinally during the neonatal period and at 4, 12, and 24 months in a semi-naturalistic setting. Features of speech analysed were: contour of fundamental frequency, repetitiveness, timing (durations of vocalizations and pauses), tempo and MLU. The neonatal period was characterized by elongated pauses. During the 4-month period the extent of pitch contouring and repetitiveness was greater than at earlier or later ages. By 24 months, the duration of vocalizations and length of MLU became markedly greater. The period of intense face-to-face interaction around the fourth month proved to involve more changes in certain prosodic features. Some of the possible functions of these changes during this phase are discussed.



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This research was supported by the Jane Hilder Harris Foundation. We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Nancy Brinker and Phyllis Jacobs in most phases of this research, and Susan Peters, at the Rockefeller University Field Research Center, for providing voice spectrographs. Address for correspondence: Dept. of Psychiatry, Cornell University Medical Center, 525 E. 68th Street, New York, NY 10021.



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Journal of Child Language
  • ISSN: 0305-0009
  • EISSN: 1469-7602
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-child-language
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