Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2008
Details of the linguistic modifications in speech to children are provided for the Mayan language Quiché. Quiché input is evaluated with respect to 17 features listed in Ferguson (1978). Eight additional features are noted for Quiché speech to children: whispering, initial-syllable deletion, BT forms for verbs, a verbal suffix that appears exclusively in speech to children, a relatively fixed word order with relatively fewer overt noun phrases, more imperatives, and a special interpretive routine. Quiché parents have a special register for speaking to young children. However, Quiché speech to children has only five of the features that Ferguson cites: repetition, BT forms for qualities, compound verbs, diminutives, and special sounds. This suggests that the features of speech to children are not universal, but are determined by the conventions for interacting with children in each community. Functional explanations of such features will have to take this degree of cultural variation into consideration.
Research grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Organization of American States helped support the collection of the Quiché data. I would like to thank the Quiché children, parents and field assistants for their contributions to this study. Unfortunately, the tragic situation that presently exists in Guatemala prevents me from doing so directly. I would also like to thank Ben Blount, Ann Eisenberg, Charles A. Ferguson, David Ingram, Nan Ratner and Catherine Snow for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. I take responsibility for any remaining disfluent or unintelligible utterances.