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Professor Greg Bryant in the News!
December 12, 2017

(CNN)We all use baby talk when we babble with bundles of joy, but does how we talk to infants vary across cultures? 

The answer seems to be yes and no. "Some cultures talk more or less to babies, some not at all," said Mark VanDam, assistant professor of speech and hearing sciences in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine at Washington State University. "Overall, however, the impulse and act of infant-directed speech seems to be pretty human, not necessarily culturally defined," he said. Mothers around the world consistently alter their voices when talking to their babies, no matter what language they speak, according to a study published in October in the journal Current Biology. Parenting Without Borders considers how parenting trends and methods differ -- or don't -- around the world. Researchers recorded and analyzed the voices of 24 moms with a powerful machine-learning algorithm. Half of the women were English speakers, and the others spoke Spanish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, German, French, Hebrew, Mandarin and Cantonese. Despite their native languages, the study showed, all of the women consistently shifted their timbre -- or the tone and sound of their voice -- when interacting with their infants.  The researchers were surprised that this shift in sound was a consistent pattern across such a diverse range of languages, said Elise Piazza, associate research scholar at Princeton University and lead author of the study. "After we controlled for pitch, we still found timbre differences between infant-directed speech and adult-directed speech," Piazza said. Though some similarities have been seen in how mothers speak to babies, studies have also spotted some cultural differences among both moms and dads.

How baby talk might differ 

A study published in February in the journal Child Development found that dads in North America tended to slow their speech when talking to infants, whereas dads in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu did not. Rather, they tended to shift their pitch more. Researchers examined 30 interactions between the fathers and their infants, around 7.8 months old. More research is needed in a larger sample of fathers to determine that such differences do, indeed, exist in how these dads baby talk. "These are small samples," said Greg Bryant, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. He conducted the study with Tanya Broesch, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Simon Fraser University.
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