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Low-income fathers’ speech to toddlers during book reading versus toy play*



Fathers’ child-directed speech across two contexts was examined. Father–child dyads from sixty-nine low-income families were videotaped interacting during book reading and toy play when children were 2;0. Fathers used more diverse vocabulary and asked more questions during book reading while their mean length of utterance was longer during toy play. Variation in these specific characteristics of fathers’ speech that differed across contexts was also positively associated with child vocabulary skill measured on the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory. Results are discussed in terms of how different contexts elicit specific qualities of child-directed speech that may promote language use and development.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Virginia C. Salo, Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology, 3304 Benjamin Building, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742; e-mail:


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This research was supported by an NIH grant (R03 from NICHD: HD066017) to Natasha Cabrera and Meredith Rowe. The first author also received support from the NICHD Training Program in Social Development Grant (NIH T32 HD007542) awarded to the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology at the University of Maryland by the NICHD. We are grateful to Bridget Mullan for her administrative work on this project, and to Jenessa Malin, Elizabeth Karberg, Simone Templeton, Jeff Wang, Sophia Castro, and Jennifer Anderson for help with transcription and coding.



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