Parents’ speech

作天在談音韻覺識(phonological awareness)的家長講座中,我舉了”我要食薯ben2″, 佢叫做乜嘢men2″, “請企呢边墩”,”我好很定佢……”;”個银包係乞色”,”佢緊系食咗……”……等例;但有趣的,是原來近半家長聽不到問題所在!

After I posted the above update on my FB wall, a few friends responded with their observations. One of them mentioned the habit by some parents of reduplicating words when they talk to their infant children:

“Many parents also use repeated words to talk to their children as well like 食唔食飯飯?飲茶茶咁”

This phenomenon of reduplication is interesting. At 25-50 weeks, infants go through a stage of reduplicative babbling. Is that why many languages have reduplicated words for caretakers like ‘papa’ and ‘mama’? Is that why Chinese-speaking parents will also use reduplication when talking to their infant children, psychologically to simulate interactive talk with them? On the other hand, this is possible because Chinese (whatever dialect) is monosyllabic, hence 波波,車車 … To my knowledge, a polysyllabic language like English does not allow that, for it would create nonsensical words, other than the more formulaic reduplicated expressions like ‘wee-wee’, ‘pee-pee’, and ‘bye-bye’. An English-speaking parent wouldn’t say, ‘…car-car’. What are Chinese parents’ motivation for using reduplication when talking to their infant children? Does that facilitate or hinder language acquisition? I have yet to look up the relevant research findings.

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