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The Form and function of child directed speech

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Discuss the form and function of child directed speech (also called 'motherese'). That is, describe both its features and its role in language acquisition. This essay aims to look at the concept of child directed speech and how it influences and impacts upon the child language acquisition process. The caregiver of a young child will address them using very different linguistic techniques than they would to an older child or adult with fluent language use. The essay will also discuss specific features of child directed speech. "Motherese" or "Caretaker Speech" are also common linguistic labels given when describing the altered interaction of adults towards children (Thorne, 1997) It is widely believed to be used universally. From a phonetic prospective, the caregiver will use a wider and higher pitch range with exaggerated intonation and stress put on key words that the caregiver thinks are key. This helps to keep the child's attention at an age were it could easily be distracted by the surrounding environment. Sometimes, the wider and higher use of pitch can make the utterance sound sing-song like and may interest the child similar to the way a nursery rhyme would. ...read more.


When a child cries, they are signalling their emotions/discomfort as they cannot yet communicate them through speech. This is a common opportunity for motherese language to be used by the caregiver in an attempt to sympathise with the child and to comfort them. Repetition is commonly used, often to place an emphasis on new words. The caregiver may place the word in different contexts to reinforce the child's learning. "That's a....." and "Where's the...." are examples of two structures used by caregivers when presenting a new word to a child (Peters, 1983) The caregiver will often repeat a vocalisation that the child has made. This has been found to be a successful technique in engaging the child with the utterance (Locke 1983) It is very common for peoples names that they come into regular contact to be repeated to reinforce that they are important people in the child's life. Motherese language may also include the use of more imperatives such as "Tell Mummy" and interrogatives such as "What's that?" to direct the child and involve them within the conversation, which could be a key factor to them benefiting from motherese. ...read more.


The child is obviously the main focus of attention at the time and the caregiver has the opportunity to spend time and "bond" with the child. Mothers are more likely to use features of motherese than fathers and have been found to have a higher median frequency and greater range of frequencies when speaking to young children. (Remick, 1971) To conclude, motherese seems an important factor in the much-discussed topic of child language acquisition. Motherese allows the child crucial interactions in which to practice their language learning and communication with others, which is crucial for the rest of their lives. It is also an opportunity for relationships to be established between the caregiver and child and allows bonding experiences to take place and for the child to realise that language can be used to communicate facts and feelings to others. The unique linguistic register adapted by motherese is used in a similar way around the world, proving that motherese is seen as a natural way in which to communicate to the child prior to them actually being able to speak. However, there is no clear evidence to show that motherese language and it's linguistic features have a direct impact upon language development and it is possible that language acquisition occurs as a result of an innate language acquisition device. ...read more.

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