Good Question: Is Baby Talk Real Conversation?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

There’s something amazing about watching 18-month-old twins Sam and Ren, leaning against the fridge and apparently swapping stories. More than 2 million of us have watched it on YouTube. But is baby talk a real conversation?

“I think it’s crazy how kids can communicate with each other at such a young age,” said Mary Brown, a pregnant mother of two with a lot of baby talk experience. “No one knows exactly what they’re trying to say.”

“And it’s hilarious!” laughed Dr. Marie Vu, at HealthEast Grand Avenue Clinic in St. Paul.

Is it real talk?

“I believe it’s just babble,” she said. “It’s clear they’re enjoying themselves, really just exploring expressive language.”

Researchers think baby talk is really just babies copying the way we speak. The idea is that the mimicking helps make the brain connections that ultimately lead to speech.

“Certain babies form associations with sounds that mean something to them,” said Vu, like when a baby says “ba” and means “bottle.”

But Vu added, “I don’t know how another baby would know that.”

In very rare cases, twins can develop a shared language. But typically, those twins have to be isolated from adults.

And just because these twins take turns, and have a rhythm that looks like they’re sharing a story, that’s considered interaction babbling.

“You can see it as early as 6 months, moving up to 9 months. Talk to a baby in normal voice, the baby will coo or babble back,” said Vu.

In other words, if you’re looking for a translation of what Sam and Ren were sharing, Vu says “I think you’d be really hard pressed.”

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