Journal of Child Language

Brief Research Report

What's in a name? Coming to terms with the child's linguistic environment


a1 Institute of Education, University of London, UK


This article reviews the proliferation of terms that have been coined to denote the language environment of the young child. It is argued that terms are often deployed by researchers without due consideration of their appropriateness for particular empirical studies. It is further suggested that just three of the dozen or more available terms meet the needs of child language researchers in most instances: child-directed speech, infant-directed speech and exposure language. The phenomena denoted by these terms are then considered. The term register is generally borrowed for this purpose from sociolinguistics. However, close inspection of this concept reveals that the notion of register needs to be constrained, in specified ways, in order to be of any real value within the field of child language research.

(Received February 23 2007)

(Revised May 17 2007)


c1 Address for correspondence: Matthew Saxton, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, University of London, 25 Woburn Square, London, WC1H 0AA, UK. fax: +44 (0)20-7612-6304; e-mail:


* I am very grateful to the following for information, suggestions and comments, offered via the Info-CHILDES discussion forum ( Ruth Berman, Shoshana Blum-Kulka, John Bohannon, John Bonvillian, Robin Campbell, Leila Gleitman, Keith Nelson, Anat Ninio, Barbara Zurer Pearson, Brian Richards, Dan Slobin, Catherine Snow, Carol Stoel-Gammon, Edy Veneziano, Marilyn Vihman and Fay Wouk. I also thank Dick Hudson for helpful comments.