Singing in the Brain

I have five siblings, all boys. My brothers range from 11 to 21 years younger than me. (I bet that’s not where you thought that sentence was going!) As you can imagine, I am very familiar with the high-pitched, singsong way parents speak to their children. This style of speech, called Motherese (or Parentese), was used so frequently in my household that my mother sometimes accidentally directed it at me. For example, last year when I told her on the phone that I’d found a new apartment, she said, in excited motherly tones, “Did you?” to which I replied, “Yes, I did. And I’m 23.”

Although Motherese can be deeply annoying for older siblings and the general public, it’s important for children’s development of speech. Last Wednesday, I attended a lecture (part of Columbia’s Mind Brain Behavior Initiative and sponsored by the Dana Foundation) where the speaker, Dr. Sarah Woolley, told us that parents’ speech shapes infants’ auditory perception.

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