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The language addressed to children by their caretakers is often called motherese.

  • "...many parents (and some child psychologists who should know better) think that mothers provide children with implicit lessons. These lessons take the form of a special speech variety called Motherese (or, as the French call it, Mamanaise): intensive sessions of conversational give-and-take, with repetitive drills and simplified grammar. ("Look at the doggie! See the doggie? There's a doggie!")" (Pinker 1994:39-40)


  • baby talk
  • parentese (a gender-neutral substitute for motherese that has not caught on)
  • caretaker speech
  • child-directed speech (this is the term now used by most researchers)
  • "For reference purposes, the language addressed to children is often called motherese or baby talk. Neither term is particularly helpful. Motherese is not adequate, since the infant is also addressed by fathers, other adults, and children. Baby talk is also inadequate because it is used in the literature in a negative sense as a form of language which uses a restricted set of features... Here I will use the following broad definition of baby talk: Baby talk: the language used by anyone in the linguistic community when addressing a child." (Ingram 1989:131)


The term was apparently coined by Elissa Newport in the early 1970s (see Newport 1972, 1974, 1975) (source)

See also

Wikipedia article


  • Ingram, David. 1989. First language acquisition: method, description and explanation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Newport, Elissa L. 1972. Motherese: a study of how mothers speak to young children. Spencer Foundation grant proposal. (cited in Newport 1975)
  • Newport, Elissa L. 1974. Motherese and its relation to the child's acquisition of language. Paper presented at Conference on Language Input and Acquisition, Boston, September 1974. (cited in Newport 1975)
  • Newport, Elissa L. 1975. Motherese: The speech of mothers to young children. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Pinker, Steven. 1994. The language instinct. New York: W. Morrow and Co.