Maternity and the development of the newborn

Maternity and the development of the newborn

Maternese is that particular language generally used to address children. As ridiculous or silly as it may seem, it is a very valuable form of communication for their development.

Maternity and the development of the newborn

Last update: February 07, 2022

Maternese is that particular language that many adults use when addressing newborns and to younger children. A childish language with an affectionate tone, while the child carefully follows the flow of words and often responds with a smile, showing surprise or interest.

In the past it was argued that talking to the child in this way was not correct as it would not allow him to develop the ability to speak correctly. Today we know that the exact opposite happens: the maternese helps the child to develop his language skills and it's a great way to learn how to communicate.

In maternal language we do not find only those simple and sometimes absurd words that are said to newborns. We also find a particular intonation and a great use of gestures.

Expresses affection and a desire to establish communication with the child and for this reason it is much more than just a loving way of speaking.

"[...] we observe firsthand how the language and social commitment of parents can foster the child's first whispers, which become words and then phrases: educating children in the art of human communication."

-Patricia Kuhl-

What is maternese?

Maternese is a word used to designate the language that the mother uses to address the newborn; in fact there are also those who speak of paternese to refer to the communicative exchange initiated by the father.

However, this name includes any form of communication with the newborn which responds to the characteristics described and is used by those who care for it.

A language with well-defined tone and vocalization. The voice becomes higher-pitched and the words are separated markedly, using short and repetitive sentences. The present tense is usually used.

The quintessential characteristic of Maternese is the simplification of words or the conversion into onomatopoeia. For example, we will not say "this", but "quetto"; and we will not speak of "cat" but of "meow meow". The sentences are full of diminutives and accompanied by gestures and facial expressions.

It is also common to make use of physical contact when. For example, caresses or kisses to the child are accompanied by the language. The speaking adult expects a response from the child, which usually gives it through gestures such as a football, a verse of appreciation, a look or an attempt to repeat what is felt.

Why is Maternese important?

Many adults use mothering with children spontaneously and without thinking about the why or the meaning of this method of communication. But for the child it actually makes sense.

First of all, because the intonation and the gestures that accompany it are highly affective and the little one perceives it. He understands that the attitude towards him is positive.

Similarly, this way of speaking to the little one is not a monologue, but an interaction. The child feels it and for this reason responds, in his own way, establishing an emotional and communicative bond with the speaker.

Even the exaggeratedly pronounced words attract his attention. The particular intonation plays a role similar to that of singing: it allows words and phrases to be engraved in the memory, thus contributing to the development of learning and language.

These short repeated phrases, combined with a kind of affectionate parody exhibited by the adult, slowly lead the little one to understand what we want to tell him. It does not represent a teaching and learning process as such, but paves the way for it to be achieved.

More than a language, a conversation

Remember that human language is not like that of a machine. It is not just a question of encoding an idea in words for the other to decode it and give it meaning. In people this concept goes further, and involves affective contact, sharing of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, etc.

Through the maternese one is not taught to speak, but to converse. The most valuable element is the implicit proposal of interaction. This form of communication makes it easier for the little one to respond and reach a certain level of understanding, a course of action that will be very valuable in their entire development.

Maternese is also used in adult life, most often with a partner or with pets. In fact, science says that we tend to use it with anyone who favors a production of oxytocin, the hormone of happiness. After all, it's an emotionally charged way of interacting.

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