My friend bought an adorable little puppy with his girlfriend a few years back. And he always spoke in baby talk when addressing his puppy, to the point where he was kind of notorious for it.
In fact, he received quite a bit of criticism from some of his extended family members for his use of a “silly” and “unnecessary” voice.
There could be an argument in favor of baby-talk with regard to language development in human babies. But what does your dog think about it?
Some University of York, Department of Psychology, research students decided to look into it.
For the study, two people would sit down holding speakers that broadcast their pre-recorded voice. One person’s speaker played regular, every-day language and tone.
The other person’s speaker played slower, inflated, higher-pitch language that included specific words that might be familiar to the dogs.
The researchers then calculated how long each leashed dog paid attention to each person while the speakers played their recorded voices.
Then they released the dogs and documented the duration of time the dogs socialized with each person.
What they found is that the dogs paid attention to the individual with the recording of baby talk for a longer period of time than they did the individual with the recording of regular speech.
They also found that the dogs preferred to socialize with the people holding the speaker transmitting baby-talk.
So the conclusion of the study is that dogs do appear to favor being spoken to in a baby-talk manner of speech.
I don’t know about you, but the first thought I had was that maybe the dogs just thought the baby talk participants had treats or something, because their recordings did have words familiar to dogs in it.
The researchers evidently had the same thought because they devised a follow-on test. It paired a baby talk voice with unfamiliar words and ordinary vocal tone with familiar words.
For example, someone would say a familiar phrase like “Do you want a treat?” in a very dull and disinterested voice, and phrases like “I need to brush my teeth” in a very excited voice.
The outcome of the follow-on test was that dogs didn’t favor either. So it appears the outcome of the first experiment was due, at least in part, to the use of familiar words in conjunction with a baby talk voice.
There’s a thought-provoking nuance to this subject. When people baby talk to their dogs, they actually don’t baby talk the same way they do to humans.
Separate studies have shown that when talking to human babies, we emphasize vowels. But when we speak to our furry babies, we don’t do this.
Even more fascinating is that we do magnify our vowels when baby talking to parrots, an animal that can mimic the way we talk.
So we seem to be aware on a subconcious level of the linguistic capacity of the pet we’re communicating with.
Obvioulsy more investigation is essential to determining how much preference the dogs showed because of familiar language and how much was due to intonation.
And if it’s demonstrated that intonation is the driving factor (which it seems to be), the subsequent question is whether a partiality for baby talk is instinctive or whether it is taught to your pet (or perhaps both).
The good news is you can tell anyone who judges you for using baby talk that there’s scientific backing for doing so!
Source: National Geographic