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New research project on hyperarticulation in infant-directed speech

Lisa Gustavsson has been granted SEK 4 millions from the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation. Her project Learning First Words: The Effect of Hyperarticulation on Infant Word-Recognition, Word- Segmentation and Word-Learning (L3WO) will examine the impact of articulation on infants' language acquisition.

Infant-directed speech (IDS) is the style of speech we use when speaking to an infant. IDS is characterized by many repetitions, slow tempo and longer breaks. Studies also show that we tend to articulate more when talking to children, that is, we speak more clearly than otherwise. This type of extreme articulation is called hyperarticulation in research.

Mamma och barn leker med plastdjur. Foto: Mostphotos
Foto: Mostphotos

Hyperarticulation and language acquisition

The research project Learning First Words: The Effect of Hyperarticulation on Infant Word-Recognition, Word-Segmentation and Word-Learning (L3WO) will investigate the impact of hyperarticulation on language learning.

Medarbetare inom forskningsområdet barns språkutveckling. Foto: Peter Branderud
Iris-Corinna Schwarz, Ellen Marklund and Lisa Gustavsson in the front row. Photo by Peter Branderud

Lisa Gustavsson is the PI for the project:

– In conversations between adults, hyperarticulation occurs when the speaker believes that extra clarity is needed in order to convey the linguistic message to the listener, for example in noisy environments. We therefore hypothesize that hyperarticulation in IDS is at least partly a result of parents’ spontaneous adaptations in response to speaking to someone with limited language skills, that is, the language-learning infant. We further hypothesize that these adaptations may facilitate the complex process of acquiring new words by highlighting phonetic information and making the speech input more accessible.

Together with colleagues Iris-Corinna Schwarz and Ellen Marklund, Lisa Gustavsson will test whether and how hyperarticulation impacts three core aspects of infant word acquisition: word-recognition, that is, the ability to recognize words already stored in memory; word-segmentation, that is, the ability to extract words from fluent speech; and word-learning, that is, the ability to associate a speech sequence with, for example, an object. A number of observational and intervention studies document relationships between parent IDS and language skills or outcomes of the child. 


Contribute to the knowledge of how infants learn languages

The research aims will be addressed in three experimental studies. All studies employ behavioral looking-time based experimental paradigms and uses eye-tracking methods. Researchers will record infants' reactions when they see and hear different images and speech sequences. They will investigate how hyperarticulation affects children's ability to recognize words and find word boundaries in fluent speech and as well as their ability to create associations between words and objects. They will also examine whether the degree of hyperarticulation affects these abilities and how relevant the hyperarticulation is in the context. In this way, the research group wants to contribute to the knowledge of how young children learn to understand and use language.

Lisa Gustavsson:

– Knowing how different aspects of the language learning process are impacted by different characteristics of the speech input is essential for understanding the full picture of the human capacity for language. This knowledge is valuable to a wide variety of fields such as communication technology, early education, and speech and language pathology.

Since 1960, the Marcus and Amalia Wallenberg Foundation (MAW) has awarded grants for research and education within the humanities. This year, four researchers at Stockholm University has been awarded grants for their for their newly initiated projects.