Dad Talk to Baby

Have you ever noticed that moms and dads speak differently to their babies? Moms tend to engage in “baby talk”, while fathers’ words tend to sound a lot more like the kind of conversation they’d have with an older child. Or, say…their accountant.

“This isn’t a bad thing at all — it’s not a failing of the fathers”, according to study lead Mark VanDam, a professor in the Speech and Hearing Sciences department at Washington State. “We think that maybe fathers are doing things that are conducive to their children’s learning but in a different way. The parents are complementary to their children’s language learning.”

The study’s results were presented in talk called “Fathers’ use of fundamental frequency in motherese” at the 169th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, which you totally should have gone to, because it’s widely known as “The Coachella of Acoustical Science”. Said no one ever.

For the study, the researchers outfitted families with recording devices. The families were recorded, and speech-recognition software parsed the language patterns that mothers and fathers used with their preschoolers. The software compared the parents’ speech with other adult interactions they had, finding that, as suspected, mothers use more of a “sing-songy” cadence and tone variance than fathers. Dads, they found, talked with simpler words, but a tone similar to one they’d use with peers or older children.

Researchers call it the “bridge hypothesis” – fathers are providing a connection to the outside world’s more complex speech.

The Washington State study is limited in scope, however. The researchers only recruited two-parent heterosexual families where both parents were at home full-time with the child. Researchers say that single-parent and same-sex households might see different results, and they intend to continue research to include them.