Parents’ hyper-pitch and low vowel category variability in infant-directed speech are associated with 18-month-old toddlers’ expressive vocabulary
The present study examines the acoustic properties of infant-directed speech (IDS) as compared to adult-directed speech (ADS) in Norwegian parents of 18-month-old toddlers, and whether these properties relate to toddlers’ expressive vocabulary size. Twenty-one parent-toddler dyads from Tromsø, Northern Norway participated in the study. Parents (16 mothers, 5 fathers), speaking a Northern Norwegian dialect, were recorded in the lab reading a storybook to their toddler (IDS register), and to an experimenter (ADS register). The storybook was designed for the purpose of the study, ensuring identical linguistic contexts across speakers and registers, and multiple representations of each of the nine Norwegian long vowels. We examined both traditionally reported measures of IDS: pitch, pitch range, vowel duration and vowel space expansion, but also novel measures: vowel category variability and vowel category distinctiveness. Our results showed that Norwegian IDS, as compared to ADS, had similar characteristics as in previously reported languages: higher pitch, wider pitch range, longer vowel duration, and expanded vowel space area; in addition, it had more variable vowel categories. Further, parents’ hyper-pitch, that is, the within-parent increase in pitch in IDS as compared to ADS, and lower vowel category variability in IDS itself, were related to toddlers' vocabulary. Our results point towards potentially facilitating roles of increase in parents’ pitch when talking to their toddlers and of consistency in vowel production in early word learning.
Keywords: infant-directed speech, vocabulary, language acqusition, dialect, Norwegian, language acquisition