5th International Conference on Spoken Language Processing

Sydney, Australia
November 30 - December 4, 1998

Pragmatic Characteristics of Infant Directed Speech

Sudaporn Luksaneeyanawin, Chayada Thanavisuth, Suthasinee Sittigasorn, Onwadee Rukkarangsarit

Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

A longitudinal study of the pragmatic characteristics of the Infant Directed Speech (IDS) of middle class Thai mothers when talking to their babies at birth (Newborn), and when the infants were 3-, 6-, 9-, and 12-months-old was conducted. Three aspects were investigated: (1) the verbal acts which the mothers use with their infants using the framework of Thai linguistic action verbs (LAVs), and speech act verbs (SAVs) found in IDS; (2) the use of interrogative sentences in IDS both in quantitative and qualitative terms, and (3) the use of final particles incorporating both the status and mood particles which the mothers use in IDS. Regarding SAVs, overall IDS was made up of 38.6% expressives, 23.2% assertives, 20% directives, 15.3% questions, and 2.4% interaction-management. Comparison of SAVs in IDS directed to the five age groups shows a similarity in the pragmatic characteristics of the 3-and 6-month-olds, as opposed to the 9- and 12-month-olds. IDS to Newborns is unique compared with these two groups. It was found that 27.8 % of the IDS utterances were interrogatives, with a peak incidence of interrogatives at 3 months. The incidence of Yes-No interrogatives decreased as the age of the infants increased, whereas the incidence of WH- interrogatives increased as the age of the infants increased. Regarding the type of information mothers were seeking in WH- interrogatives, VP information-seeking is prominent for the Newborn and 3-month speech, but decreased as the infants got older. NP information-seeking was low for speech to the Newborns and 3-month-olds, and increased in speech to the 6-, 9-, and 12-month-olds. The information-seeking in adjuncts (location, time, manner etc.) was high in the 9- and 12-month-olds, when the infants were able to move about and started to explore their physical world. Interrogatives are used mostly for didactic functions; mothers asked and then answered the questions themselves. A large number of repetitive question forms are found, and these are used to draw the attention of infants in the mother-child interaction. Analysis of the use of the final particles reflects very clear didactic and emotive functions in IDS. The pragmatic characteristics of IDS during the first twelve months of the infants' lives varied significantly across ages. Mothers adapted their communication strategies in talking to their babies. These variations were found to help accommodate the mother-child interaction from the time when the infants were not able to communicate at all (Newborns), to the time when they started to communicate with nonverbal acts such as gazing, smiling and crying with eye contact (3 to 6 months), and in turn to the time when they started to communicate with hand touching and rudimentary verbal communication (9 to 12 months). IDS input is not just input data for infants to learn linguistic forms, but plays an important role in the development of the linguistic behaviour with the ultimate goal of communicating with other human beings successfully.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Luksaneeyanawin, Sudaporn / Thanavisuth, Chayada / Sittigasorn, Suthasinee / Rukkarangsarit, Onwadee (1998): "Pragmatic characteristics of infant directed speech", In ICSLP-1998, paper 0913.