In Praise of Parentese

In Praise of Parentese

The technical term for the special language mothers and fathers tend to use when speaking to their infants – language that features short sentences, repetition, clear pronunciation, and high-pitched exaggerated expression – is “parentese.”  What’s the everyday term for this?  That’s right!  It’s baaaayyybee talk!  Yessss!  Baaaaybeee talk!  Yes it is!  Yes it is!  It’s baaaaybeee talk!

What is that all about?  Why do mothers and fathers do this?

I have no idea where the tendency comes from.  But believe it or not, as ridiculous as it seems, it actually is a very good thing to do.  Think about it.  Short sentences, repetition, clear pronunciation, high-pitched exaggerated expression.  If you were just learning a language, wouldn’t you appreciate it if people spoke to you that way?  And research has demonstrated that when mothers and fathers use parentese, it does in fact enable their little ones to learn language more quickly and more easily.

So go ahead and let yourself go without feeling like a fool.  Eventually, you will want to begin modeling more appropriate language.  You don’t want to be standing there going, “Collleggge!  Yes, collleggge!  You are goooing to collleggge!”  But at least for the first year or so, this sort of silliness is highly recommended.

Michael K. Meyerhoff, Ed.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. Mike”) is a member of the management team at Romp n’ Roll.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Columbia University, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in human development from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he also held a position as a researcher with the Harvard Preschool Project.  He may be contacted via e-mail at