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This study examines correlations between the prosody of infant-directed speech (IDS) and children’s vocabulary size. We collected longitudinal speech data and vocabulary information from Dutch mother-child dyads with children aged 18 (N = 49) and 24 (N = 27) months old. We took speech context into consideration and distinguished between prosody when mothers introduce familiar vs. unfamiliar words to their children. The results show that IDS mean pitch predicts children’s vocabulary growth between 18 and 24 months. In addition, the degree of prosodic modification when mothers introduce unfamiliar words to their children correlates with children’s vocabulary growth during this period. These findings suggest that the prosody of IDS, especially in word-learning contexts, may serve linguistic purposes.
This study investigates the pitch properties of infant-directed speech (IDS) specific to word-learning contexts in which mothers introduce unfamiliar words to children. Using a semi-spontaneous story-book telling task, we examined (1) whether mothers made distinctions between unfamiliar and familiar words with pitch in IDS compared to adult-directed speech (ADS); (2) whether pitch properties change when mothers address children from 18 to 24 months; and (3) how Mandarin Chinese and Dutch IDS differ in their pitch properties in word-learning contexts. Results show that the mean pitch of Mandarin Chinese IDS was already ADS-like when children were 24 months, but Dutch IDS remained exaggerated in pitch at the same age. Crucially, Mandarin Chinese mothers used a higher pitch and a larger pitch range in IDS when introducing unfamiliar words, while Dutch mothers used a higher pitch specifically for familiar words. These findings contribute to the language-specificity of prosodic input in early lexical development.
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