Cendra Agulhon

Other Organizers

Laurianne Cabrera
Louise Kirsch



Conference room R229
Campus Saint Germain des Prés de l'Université de Paris, 45 rue des Saints Pères, Paris 6e


12 Jun 2023


11 h 00 min - 12 h 00 min


INCC Seminar Series

How should we sound when we talk to babies? Rethinking the phonetics and phonology of infant-directed speech, by Henny Yeung

How should we sound when we talk to babies? Rethinking the phonetics and phonology of infant-directed speech.

In language development research, there is a renewed focus on what babies (should) hear. For example, public initiatives, like the “30-million word gap” or “Providence Talks,” apply normative standards to the quantity of richness of parent talk, while other research trends identify socio-pragmatic features of ‘high-quality’ parent talk. There is also a normative perspective to the phonetics and phonology of infant-directed speech (IDS), which argues that we should speak to babies using higher pitch, slower speech rates, and more variable articulation, etc. I will challenge this idea in my talk. First, I report an analysis of IDS phonetics from a large corpus of urbanized North American caregivers, asking whether the enhancement of prosodic features is correlated with other ‘positive’ estimates of the phonetics of parent talk. Results suggest that this correlation does not support a normative approach to IDS phonetics. In the second part of the talk, I suggest instead that IDS as a speech register should be more fully considered in its sociolinguistic context, and I report a cross-cultural comparison of IDS from Canadian and ni-Vanuatu mothers, which again suggests problems for normative approaches to IDS phonetics. Finally, I suggest ways that researchers may begin to think about IDS as a speech register that also interacts with a particular socio-cultural context.

Short Biography
Henny Yeung holds a BSc in Neurolinguistics from Duke University, and earned an MA and PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of British Columbia. He then became a CNRS researcher in the Laboratoire Psychologie de la Perception at the Université Paris Descartes, and is now a faculty member in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Yeung is interested in the perceptual and cognitive processes involved in language acquisition, and directs the Language Learning and Development (LangDev) Lab. His research investigates infant, child, and adult populations.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *