The Phonological forms and perceived functions of janyarrp, the Gurindji 'baby talk' register

Caroline Jones, Felicity Meakins

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)


    Baby talk is an aspect of infant- or child-directed speech where caregivers imitate children's immature productions in stylized form. Within non-generativist approaches to language acquisition, children's language acquisition is often viewed an emergent response to a highly patterned linguistic environment, at least some of which is tailored by caregivers to children's cognitive and social needs. Some cross-cultural research, however, has disputed whether caregivers modify speech to children in all cultures, and whether or to what extent special infant- or child-directed speech is necessary for successful language acquisition. In this paper we present new cross-linguistic and cross-cultural data on baby talk or janyarrp among Gurindji people. Using a corpus of naturalistic family interactions and interviews with Gurindji people of northern Australia we describe the phonological modifications and specific lexicon of baby talk and investigate its possible functions. Several phonological reductions were found which are familiar from baby talk and child speech in other languages, including rhotic replacement and cluster reduction. More unusually, baby talk neutralizes the three-way coronal contrast in Gurindji Kriol, the language which Gurindji children learn at home. The functions of baby talk for Gurindji people likewise seem to comprise familiar baby talk functions like holding attention as well as less familiar functions, such facilitating children's imitations in production.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)170-193
    Number of pages24
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Australian languages
    • Baby talk
    • Child-directed speech
    • Infant-directed speech
    • Language development
    • Phonology


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