Phonological Variation in Child-Directed Speech

Segmental features of child-directed speech (CDS) were studied in a corpus drawn from thirtynine mothers living in Tyneside, England. Focus was on the phonetic variants used for (t) in word-medial and word-final prevocalic contexts since it is known that these variants display clear sociolinguistic patterning in the adult community. Variant usage in CDS was found to differ markedly from that in interadult speech. Effects were also found with respect to the age and gender of the children being addressed. Speech to girls generally contained more standard variants than speech to boys, which, by contrast, contained higher rates of vernacular variants. The differentiation by gender was most apparent for the youngest children. The findings are assessed in comparison to other studies of CDS. It has previously been claimed that modifications made in the CDS register help children to learn linguistic structures and also to learn that speech is a social activity. Our findings suggest that CDS may play an additional role, providing boys and girls as young as 2;0 with differential opportunities to learn the social-indexical values of sociolinguistic variables.