Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An expectant father's defense of "motherese" (a.k.a., baby talk)

A recent post on the Slate Lexicon Valley blog (re-posted from elsewhere) questioned the use of "baby talk" (more academically called "motherese")—that is, the exaggerated speech employed by many when speaking to infants. The writer identified some ways in which it could be effective in distinguishing syllables to better allow the children to learn the different words, but he also took to task whether that really made much of a difference in the long run regarding the adult's eventual mastery of language. Babies certainly overhear adults speaking to each other in "regular" speech and it's a stretch to suggest babies aren't picking up on some of that. The only solid conclusion the writer could draw: To him, at least, it's definitely annoying.

Fair enough.

However, I think all of that misses the point of what "motherese" achieves.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Things to not say in front of the baby: Substitute swearing

On a recent episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour they discussed use of profanity in pop culture, and how it is only effective when dispensed judiciously. Cursing the proverbial blue streak deadens the impact of the vulgarity. Similarly, the substitution of similar-sounding words that are not considered obscene by the FCC (or mere common decency) either in lieu of bleeping or to eschew that for broadcast can be more distracting than the use of the forbidden term would have done.

It's all about striking the appropriate balance when dispensing these so-called swear words. They need to serve their purpose without becoming pointless; they are a spice of language, and like any good spice too much makes the whole dish tasteless. However, pale substitution spices leave an unsatisfactory aftertaste.