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Maternés: the communication style we use with babies

Maternés: the communication style we use with babies

June 21, 2024

It is possible that the concept of maternés is unknown to more than one person, although it is more likely that at some time it has been used or will be used at some time. For example, when a friend or relative introduces us to your baby, or directly when we have children. And is that the maternés is the affectionate and at the same peculiar language that we usually use when interacting with babies and very young children. In this article we are going to talk briefly about this way of communicating.

  • Related article: "What is affection and why does it mark us throughout life?"

What is the maternés?

The maternés or parentés, also known as the caregiver's language or speech, is the style of speech and non-verbal expression that we typically use to address a baby . It is a dialect of the language we use to communicate that has its own characteristics in terms of intonation, grammar or even lexicon.

This way of communicating uses a very careful pronunciation and vocalization in which the exaggerated intonation emphasizes it, sharpening the voice and separating markedly words and phrases. These tend to be short and repetitive, and focus on the present.

Another striking characteristic of this type of speech is that in it the lexicon is often simplified: words are reduced (changing a pacifier by pete is an example) or even transformed to make them onomatopoeias (for example, to speak of the wow-wow instead of use the word dog). It is also usual repeated structures, words and phrases in short periods . Also, it is common to abuse diminutives.

But the maternés is not only oral , but also we usually accompany this dialect of abundant gestures, physical contact and expression through body language. For example, we smile, we touch them, we point out things in the environment or we become surprised when we see, for example, a dog.

Also, the person speaking is not making a monologue, but is interacting with the baby and in fact usually comes to elaborate some kind of dialogue, responding the baby with movements, looking or looking for our eyes, kicking, chirping or emitting some sound . To these answers we usually respond orally or rewarding the little one with our attention or pampering .

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 4 stages of language development"

The importance of this way of speaking

We usually use the maternés without thinking exactly why, and some people find it ridiculous and ineffective. However, its use with a baby makes a lot of sense and is very useful for the development of this.

And it is that in the first place, the intonation that we use with the maternés is highly emotional and tends to reflect emotions and positive feelings towards the infant , which facilitates the existence of positive communication and the establishment of affective relationships between baby and speaker. Also, as we have said, we do not just talk and that's it, but we hold an interaction that the baby captures and responds to, establishing links with the adult or person who communicates with him.

Further, variations in intonation and exaggerated accentuation They involve stimuli that attract the attention of the baby, which will tend to focus more on the sounds and their source than in comparison with an adult speech.

Generally, this exaggerated accentuation takes place in fragments of the discourse that contain relevant properties to be learned, making it easier for the baby to record them in the future. The boy or girl He listens to phrases that are not very complex and that little by little are going to be made understandable , being able after it to deepen. It is therefore a very important language that, although it does not create language learning by itself, contributes and facilitates its acquisition.

Not only with babies: who else do we use it with?

Although the maternés is a style of speech that we can or can not use, generally is done with subjects that awaken in us certain physiological reactions , triggering the synthesis of different hormones. These include dopamine, oxytocin (associated with emotional bonding) and also associated with the phenylethylamine affective bonding.

Of course, that does not mean that the use or non-use of maternés depends on these hormones (in fact, although it is common in our society, in other contexts it is not used despite the fact that the emotional reactions generated by the children are the same).

Usually when talking about maternés we imagine someone talking and communicating with a newborn or a small child. But the truth is that this type of speech does not apply only to motherhood or fatherhood but it has spread to other areas.


One of them is pets. It is not uncommon to hear someone speak with dogs, cats, rabbits or other animals, usually when they are being given affection. Although many of the animals that keep us company are not able to really understand what we say (despite being able to understand a specific request with training), they are able to capture the intonation and emotion printed on it.

Couple relationships

Another area in which the same language is sometimes applied as that which we would apply to a child is that of the couple. Although in this case the understanding of the language is usually complete by both, some couples use the maternés as a way of interacting in an affective way , as a way to express the appreciation, devotion or sweetness that the other person wakes up, or as a small joke to sting your partner.

Bibliographic references:

  • Karmiloff, K. and Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2005). Towards language. From the fetus to the adolescent. Ediciones Morata, S.L. Madrid.
  • Martí, M. (2015). Neurological bases of language. Language processing in the child; In M. del C. Fernández López (coord.): The teaching of Spanish as a foreign language to children: basic contents for teacher training. Alcalá de Henares: Publications Service of the University of Alcalá, pp. 93-161.
  • Puente, A. (2006). The origins of language (with G. Russell). Madrid: Editorial Alliance.
  • Seltzer, L.F. (2013) The real reason why couples use baby talk. Psychology Today. Online. Available at: //
  • Serra, M .; Serrat, E; To usually do.; Bel, A. and Aparici, M. (2008). The acquisition of language. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel.

Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar (June 2024).

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