How salient are onomatopoeia in the early input? A prosodic analysis of infant-directed speech.

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Onomatopoeia are frequently identified amongst infants’ earliest words (Menn & Vihman, 2011), yet few authors have considered why this might be, and even fewer have explored this phenomenon empirically. Here we analyse mothers’ production of onomatopoeia in infant-directed speech (IDS) to provide an input-based perspective on these forms. Twelve mothers were recorded interacting with their 8-month-olds; onomatopoeic words (e.g. quack) were compared acoustically with their corresponding conventional words (duck). Onomatopoeia were more salient than conventional words across all features measured: mean pitch, pitch range, word duration, repetition and pause length. Furthermore, a systematic pattern was observed in the production of onomatopoeia, suggesting a conventionalised approach to mothers’ production of these words in IDS.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Child Language
Early online date27 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017

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