Understanding maternal speech and its impacts on child development has been a point of interest for numerous researchers across the globe. Infants’ language acquisition is highly influenced by their interaction with their mothers, with mothers often employing a unique speech style, also known as “motherese” or “parentese”. This specific type of speech is characterised by a slower rate, higher pitch, exaggerated intonation contours, and a clearer pronunciation of words, all of which are believed to facilitate language learning in infants.
Another dimension researchers have focused on is how human emotions impact the clarity and articulation of speech. Studies have shown that positive emotions can have a significant effect on speech production, making it clearer and more articulate. This phenomenon is not only observed in human-human interaction but extends to human-animal interaction as well, notably with household pets like dogs. The emotional bond between humans and their pets has been shown to trigger similar emotional responses as human-infant interaction.
Babies and puppies have at least two things in common: aside from being newborns, they promote a positive emotional state in human mothers, leading them to articulate better when they speak. This finding is the result of research by an international team that included Alejandrina Cristia, a researcher at the Laboratoire de sciences cognitives et psycholinguistique (LSCP).
Scientists studied the vocal behavior of ten mothers to better understand why mothers articulate more when speaking to infants. Participants were asked to speak to a puppy, to their six-month-old baby, and to an adult for about ten minutes. Researchers extracted every vowel from the recordings, studied their acoustic characteristics, and measured the emotions expressed according to adults who were unaware of the context in which each vowel had been pronounced.
Surprisingly, the team found that mothers articulated better and expressed more positive emotions when speaking to their babies or to puppies. In both situations, mothers displayed a range of positive emotions, which correlated with changes in their vocalisations. Other research shows that hyperarticulation leads to a clearer pronunciation of words and makes speech easier for infants to process. Published in the Journal of Child Language, these findings demonstrate that future studies on maternal speech should consider the emotional state of individuals.
The implications of these findings are significant for the fields of developmental psychology and cognitive science. They could play a crucial role in shaping our understanding of how emotions influence speech and language development. The results also highlight the importance of considering the emotional state in studies of maternal speech.
The emotional connection with babies and puppies stimulating hyperarticulation indicates the powerful influence of emotion in speech communication, possibly shedding light on new, unexplored aspects of the human language and its connection to emotions. Further research is warranted to investigate this phenomenon in different contexts and with different variables, such as the effect of different emotional states, the age of the child, or the nature of the animal-human relationship.
This study provides a stepping stone for future research in the field, allowing us to delve deeper into the complex relationship between emotion, maternal speech, and language development. In a broader sense, understanding the dynamics of speech articulation influenced by emotion could have significant implications in areas such as speech therapy, language learning, and even artificial intelligence.