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Baby talk: Mums' voices change when speaking to infants

From BBC - October 12, 2017

Mums alter the timbre of their voice when speaking "motherese" - or baby talk - say scientists in the US.

Timbre refers to the unique quality of a sound and is why a piano sounds different to a violin, even when playing the same note.

Experiments at the Princeton Baby Laboratory found women use different timbres when talking to adults and babies.

The same vocal shift was found across women speaking 10 languages.

Dr Elise Piazza said: "It's so consistent across mothers, they all use the same kind of shift to go between those modes."

'Vocal footprint'

Many of the traits of baby talk, such as differences in speed and pitch, are thought to help infants develop language skills, but this is the first time a shift in timbre has been discovered.

When you describe a voice as nasal or hoarse, gravelly or velvety, then you are talking about its timbre.

The mums were recorded while they interacted with their child, aged between seven and 12 months, and to the adult researchers.

The scientific team then took "vocal fingerprints" by measuring the spectrum of sounds within the recordings.

'Highly reliable'

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