Journal of Child Language


Maternal speech to three-month-old infants in the United States and Japan*

Suero Todaa1 c1, Alan Fogela2 and Masatoshi Kawaia3

a1 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

a2 University of Utah

a3 Nagoya University


An American-Japanese comparison of maternal speech to 3-month-old infants is presented. Mother-infant dyads were videotaped in the laboratory, and the maternal speech was analysed by function and syntactic form. US mothers were more information-oriented than were Japanese mothers; they also used more question forms, especially yes/no questions. Japanese mothers were affect-oriented, and they used more nonsense, onomatopoeic sounds, baby talk, and babies' names. The differences between countries in maternal speech addressed to 3-month-olds appear to reflect characteristic culture-specific communicative styles as well as beliefs and values related to childrearing.

(Received August 02 1988)

(Revised March 01 1989)


c1 NIH, Building 31, Room B2–B15, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA


* Portions of this paper were presented at the Southeastern Conference on Human Development, 1988. The research was supported by a Visiting Fellowship at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to the first author. It was also funded by a Fulbright Senior Research Fellowship awarded to the second author, by the Department of Educational Psychology of Nagoya University, and by a Hatch Act grant from the Purdue University Agricultural Experiment Station. The authors wish to thank the coders, assistants, and subjects who participated in this study. We are grateful to E. Nwokah for her assistance in coding maternal speech. We thank M. Bornstein for comments.