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Baby talk: from hand to mouth.

When mothers speak to their infants with the slowed cadence, exaggerated emotion, and simple words typical of baby talk, the tots pay far more attention than when their moms talk to them as they would to an adult. When deaf mothers communicate with their deaf babies, the same pattern emerges-the infants show more interest in the baby talk version of sign language than in adult-oriented maternal signing, reports psychologist Nobuo Masataka of Kyoto University in Japan.

"Human infants may have an equal capacity to attend to [baby talk] characteristics in speech or sign," Masataka contends in the September Developmental Psychology.

Mothers' signed baby talk consists of a slowed presentation of individual signs, exaggerated hand and arm movements, and frequent repeating of signs, he notes. Masataka showed videotapes of deaf mothers employing signed baby talk or adult-directed signs to a dozen 6-month-old, deaf babies of other deaf mothers. Signed baby talk evoked longer glances and indications of a more positive emotional state, according to two independent observers.

The ability of infants to focus preferentially on their mother's baby talk may provide them with the perceptual building blocks for babbling, a major step toward language use, Masataka suggests. Babbling, with voice or hands, emerges by around 10 months of age in both hearing and deaf babies (SN: 3/30/91, p.205).
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Title Annotation:deaf babies display greater attention to slow, exaggerated maternal sign language, just as hearing babies do
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 5, 1996
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