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Titia Benders: Two attempts to understand the structure of acoustic variability in Infant-Directed Speech (IDS) (and the implications for language development)

Titia Benders is Assistant Professor in Linguistics (with a focus on phonetics) at the University of Amsterdam. She completed a PhD at this same University, held a post-doctoral position at Radboud University Nijmegen, lectured in Psychology at Newcastle University (Australia), and spent 7 years as (Senior) Lecturer in the Department of Linguistics at Macquarie University (Australia), where she was deputy-director of the Child Language Lab.

Benders investigates developing phonological representations at the interface between perception, production, and input. Her main interest is the acquisition of segmental and prosodic representations by by children between 6 months and 6 years of age, who acquire one or more languages, without or with hearing loss or developmental language disorder. A second line of research concerns the linguistic and emotional properties of infant-directed speech by parents (i.e., both mothers and fathers). Benders' research routinely includes techniques from phonetics, developmental psychology, and recent statistical insights.

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Infant-Directed Speech (henceforth: IDS), the conglomerate of voice and articulation characteristics most speakers adopt when speaking to babies, is easily recognised from its raised and lively pitch. One of the many other IDS features is that vowels are realised with less consistent or more variable formant frequencies across tokens. Another feature is that pitch is more variable.

While the consequences of variability for language learning have been discussed, its causes have so far remained largely unexplored. To start addressing this issue, I will share two attempts to characterise the structure of variability in IDS.

To this end, I will:

1) assess the association between pitch and vowel variability in Mandarin (Tang, Benders, Xu-Rattanasone, Yuen, and Demuth, under review) and Dutch (Benders, 2016).

2) characterise pitch variability in (Dutch) IDS (Benders, StGeorge, & Fletcher, 2021).

3) engage in speculation with the audience about the impact of structured variability on infants’ language learning

I look forward to discussing the promise and shortcomings of this line of research, and potential next steps towards better understanding the causes of vowel variability in Infant-Directed Speech.

Tags: Language Acquisition, Phonology, Phonetics, Developmental Psychology, Infant-Directed Speech
Published Nov. 11, 2022 1:08 PM - Last modified Nov. 11, 2022 1:08 PM