You know that moment when you encounter a baby and suddenly lose about 10 million brain cells? Next thing you know, you’re talking in a weird, high-pitched voice to the little one, calling them a “cutie-patootie.”
Baby talk — sometimes referred to as “motherese” or “parentese” — is truly one of weirdest, yet most natural things that people do when they are around an adorable child.
We all basically turn into an episode of Ms. Rachel.
For centuries, we thought that only humans were the ones who succumbed to the powers that lie within a baby’s inherent cuteness, but new research shows that bottlenose dolphin moms may also communicate in baby talk to their calves.
A study published Monday found that female bottlenose dolphins change the tone in their whistles when addressing their calves.
Over the course of three decades, researchers recorded the whistles of 19 mother dolphins (father dolphins don’t play a prolonged role in parenting — *side eye*) in Florida.
During the first few months of life for a calf, each bottlenose dolphin will develop a unique tune, or signature whistle. This whistle acts like a name for the dolphin. The dolphins shout out their own “names” in the water “likely as a way to keep track of each other,” marine biologist Laela Sayigh of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told Science News.
Researchers have noticed that mother bottlenose dolphins appear to alter their signature whistle in the presence of their calves, which tend to stick by mom’s side for three to six years.
They noted how their whistles sounded when accompanied by their young versus when swimming alone or with other adult dolphins. The researchers examined 40 sounds of each dolphin’s signature whistle, “verified by the unique way each vocalization’s frequencies change over time.”
When calves were around, the moms’ whistles contained, on average, a higher maximum and slightly lower minimum pitch compared with those voiced when alone or with other adult bottlenose dolphins, contributing to an overall widened pitch range.
These whistle adjustments are similar to that of human baby talk because human caregivers typically use real words but alter the inflections. “Formally called child-directed communication, these inflections typically involve higher pitches and a wider pitch range, like what was observed in the dolphins,” the outlet explains.
Like humans, bottlenose dolphins form strong mother-child bonds, and “baby talk” could be a contributor to that bond.
Research has shown that baby talk or child-directed communication can actually boosts a baby’s brain and language development.
In 2018, a study that showed when parents were coached in “parentese,” their babies babbled more and had more words by 14 months than those who were not trained. A 2020 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that babies of coached parents showed significant gains in conversational turn-taking and vocalizations between 14 and 18 months.
“Children of coached parents produced real words, such as ball or milk, at almost twice the rate of children whose parents were in the control group,” Ferjan Ramirez, one of the study’s authors, said.
In addition, she said, babies whose parents were coached had an average vocabulary of 100 words compared to the 60 words in the control group.
Maybe all this evidence that “parentese” or baby talk can be beneficial also explains why bottlenose dolphins are one of the most intelligent species on earth.