Journal of Child Language

Research Article

Child-directed speech: relation to socioeconomic status, knowledge of child development and child vocabulary skill*


a1 University of Chicago


This study sought to determine why American parents from different socioeconomic backgrounds communicate in different ways with their children. Forty-seven parent–child dyads were videotaped engaging in naturalistic interactions in the home for ninety minutes at child age 2 ; 6. Transcripts of these interactions provided measures of child-directed speech. Children's vocabulary comprehension skills were measured using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test at 2 ; 6 and one year later at 3 ; 6. Results indicate that: (1) child-directed speech with toddlers aged 2 ; 6 predicts child vocabulary skill one year later, controlling for earlier toddler vocabulary skill; (2) child-directed speech relates to socioeconomic status as measured by income and education; and (3) the relation between socioeconomic status and child-directed speech is mediated by parental knowledge of child development. Potential mechanisms through which parental knowledge influences communicative behavior are discussed.

(Received September 20 2006)

(Revised April 02 2007)


[*] I thank Kristi Schonwald and Jason Voigt for administrative and technical support, and Karyn Brasky, Laura Chang, Elaine Croft, Kristin Duboc, Jennifer Griffin, Sarah Gripshover, Kelsey Harden, Lauren King, Carrie Meanwell, Erica Mellum, Molly Nikolas, Jana Oberholtzer, Calla Rousch, Lilia Rissman, Becky Seibel, Meredith Simone, Kevin Uttich and Julie Wallman for help in data collection and transcription. I am thankful to the participating parents for their willingness to share their knowledge and their children's language development, and to Susan Goldin-Meadow, Barbara Alexander Pan, Catherine Snow and two anonymous reviewers for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. The research was supported by grants from the NICHD: F32 HD045099 to the author and P01 HD40605 to Susan Goldin-Meadow.