4 years ago

Mothers Consistently Alter Their Unique Vocal Fingerprints When Communicating with Infants

Mothers Consistently Alter Their Unique Vocal Fingerprints When Communicating with Infants
Casey Lew-Williams, Marius Cătălin Iordan, Elise A. Piazza


The voice is the most direct link we have to others' minds, allowing us to communicate using a rich variety of speech cues [1, 2]. This link is particularly critical early in life as parents draw infants into the structure of their environment using infant-directed speech (IDS), a communicative code with unique pitch and rhythmic characteristics relative to adult-directed speech (ADS) [3, 4]. To begin breaking into language, infants must discern subtle statistical differences about people and voices in order to direct their attention toward the most relevant signals. Here, we uncover a new defining feature of IDS: mothers significantly alter statistical properties of vocal timbre when speaking to their infants. Timbre, the tone color or unique quality of a sound, is a spectral fingerprint that helps us instantly identify and classify sound sources, such as individual people and musical instruments [5–7]. We recorded 24 mothers' naturalistic speech while they interacted with their infants and with adult experimenters in their native language. Half of the participants were English speakers, and half were not. Using a support vector machine classifier, we found that mothers consistently shifted their timbre between ADS and IDS. Importantly, this shift was similar across languages, suggesting that such alterations of timbre may be universal. These findings have theoretical implications for understanding how infants tune in to their local communicative environments. Moreover, our classification algorithm for identifying infant-directed timbre has direct translational implications for speech recognition technology.

Publisher URL: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)31114-4

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.08.074

You might also like
Discover & Discuss Important Research

Keeping up-to-date with research can feel impossible, with papers being published faster than you'll ever be able to read them. That's where Researcher comes in: we're simplifying discovery and making important discussions happen. With over 19,000 sources, including peer-reviewed journals, preprints, blogs, universities, podcasts and Live events across 10 research areas, you'll never miss what's important to you. It's like social media, but better. Oh, and we should mention - it's free.

  • Download from Google Play
  • Download from App Store
  • Download from AppInChina

Researcher displays publicly available abstracts and doesn’t host any full article content. If the content is open access, we will direct clicks from the abstracts to the publisher website and display the PDF copy on our platform. Clicks to view the full text will be directed to the publisher website, where only users with subscriptions or access through their institution are able to view the full article.