Infant-directed speech through a phonetician's lens

Titia Benders, ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD)/Centre for Language Sciences (CLaS), Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

The more-than-half-a-century-long research tradition into Infant-Directed Speech (IDS) describes how caregivers speak to infants, with the aim to understand why IDS sounds different from Adult-Directed Speech (ADS) and how it may impact infants’ language and socio-emotional development. In this course, we will look at IDS through a phonetician's lens. We will reassess its acoustic-phonetic properties and their potential causes in light of the conflicts in the IDS literature and the broader knowledge of other speech registers. Guided group discussions will result in new research questions about the language/context/speaker specificity of IDS and the impact of this register on infants.

The structure is as follows:

  1. In the first session, we will focus on the “source” (i.e., what speakers do with their vocal folds). We will refine the notions of a “high and variable” pitch in IDS, explore other voice quality characteristics of IDS, and discuss the knowns and unknowns regarding the impact on infant development.
  2. In the second session, we will focus on the “filter” (i.e., what speakers do with their articulators). Specifically, we will discuss the state of evidence for and against vowel hyperarticulation and other segmental changes in IDS, including the viability of explanations in terms of ‘didactic intent’ or ‘side-effects of other modifications’.

Both sessions will include measure-your-own-IDS activities and invitations for participants to propose new directions for studying IDS.