Scientists Think Adults' Baby Talk Voice Might Be Universal - Atlas Obscura
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Scientists Think Adults’ Baby Talk Voice Might Be Universal

It’s more than just a silly voice.

You sound just like my mother.
You sound just like my mother. Max Pixel/Public Domain

You might think that when you are cooing and using baby talk that you are just making up uniquely random sounds. But according to a new study, in some ways, just about every mom speaks the same baby talk.

A recent report out of the Princeton University Baby Lab (a real institution) has found that women from a wide range of different languages all use a similar timbre when speaking to infants in a cutesy way. Researchers tested 12 English-speaking mothers, taking samples of them speaking both to children and then to adults, and were able to train a computer to differentiate distinct voices for each with little more than a second of sound data. Then they sampled the voices of 12 more moms who spoke nine different languages, and found that across all the subjects, the change in timbre was about the same.

According to the Baby Lab’s Elise Piazza in a press release, the takeaway is that mothers (and probably fathers as well—the researchers just stuck with mothers for now to limit the test results) may have “a universal form of communication that mothers implicitly use to engage their babies,” which may help language learning.

There is still more research to be done, but the next time you find yourself spewing some cutesy nonsense at an infant, take heart in the fact that it’s not silly. It’s natural.