A lot of us find baby talk to be very ... weird.
You know, that kind of high-pitched singsong kind of lingo that only seems to occur around small babies or funny-looking dogs? It's totally weird. But we all do it.
It just seems to happen, like there's some sort of switch in our brain that turns on and transforms us from articulate human beings into human beings who sound like they swallowed an Auto-Tune machine.
Baby talk isn't limited to a handful of languages, either — it's been observed nearly everywhere — including in English, Arabic, Hindi, and Mandarin-speaking cultures, to name just a few.
A lot of scientists, however, don't find baby talk weird at all. They find it absolutely fascinating.
Language is something we use every day, but it's one of the most interesting puzzles in biology. Figuring out how babies learn to talk can help us understand how our own brains process language and maybe even how language evolved in the first place.
Scientists have found that using baby talk might actually help infants learn words faster.
Of course, scientists usually don't call it "baby talk," preferring somewhat more clinical terms like "parentese," "motherese," or "infant-directed speech."
But one study from the University of Washington found that 2-year-olds whose parents regularly had long conversations with their kids in parentese had more than double the vocabulary of kids who got the least exposure to it.
Why? It turns out babies like the singsongy tone of voice that comes with baby talk.
It's not the made-up words, like goo-goo ga-ga; instead, it's that weird tone of voice we use. There's something about that pattern of long, exaggerated sentences ("Helloooo, lil' bay-bee" vs. "Greetings, small infant," or just "Hey", for example) that babies seem to tune in on.
The high-pitched sounds we use when speaking in baby talk appear to be better at keeping babies' attention than when we speak with more normal intonation and inflections.
Those big, grand exaggerations we tend to use in baby talk also help convey emotion better than our normal adult speech.
Imagine trying to learn a new language — when it comes to figuring out which words are happy and which are sad, would you rather talk to Miss Piggy, whose tone of voice always lets you know what she's feeling, or Sam the Eagle, whose voice remains the same no matter what he's talking about?
Scientists also think the repetitive sounds used when speaking in baby talk (think "ma-ma," "da-da," or "choo-choo") might also help cement the words in a baby's brain.
In a recent study from the University of Edinburgh, scientists put 18-month-old kids in a room with a computer screen.
In each test, they showed each of the kids two unfamiliar objects. One object was given a repeating made-up name, like "nee-nee." The other object's made-up name didn't have a repetitive sound.
When the researchers later tested the kids again, they found the kids were better at remembering the name of the object with the repeated syllable.
So, parents and friends of parents with infants, now that you know this, go ahead and your singsongy baby talk flag fly.
You might feel weird using baby talk or maybe other people think you're weird for doing so — but armed with this knowledge, you can go right ahead and embrace the baby talk. After all, no matter what other people think, you know what you're really doing.
You're helping your kid learn to speak.