Individual differences in mothers’ speech (Dilley et al., 2020)

Purpose: Differences across language environments of prelingually deaf children who receive cochlear implants (CIs) may affect language acquisition; yet, whether mothers show individual differences in how they modify infant-directed (ID) compared with adult-directed (AD) speech has seldom been studied. This study assessed individual differences in how mothers realized speech modifications in ID register and whether these predicted differences in language outcomes for children with CIs.
Method: Participants were 36 dyads of mothers and their children aged 0;8–2;5 (years;months) at the time of CI implantation. Mothers’ spontaneous speech was recorded in a lab setting in ID or AD conditions before ~15 months postimplantation. Mothers’ speech samples were characterized for acoustic–phonetic and lexical properties established as canonical indices of ID speech to typically hearing infants, such as vowel space area differences, fundamental frequency variability, and speech rate. Children with CIs completed longitudinal administrations of one or more standardized language assessment instruments at variable intervals from 6 months to 9.5 years postimplantation. Standardized scores on assessments administered longitudinally were used to calculate linear regressions, which gave rise to predicted language scores for children at 2 years postimplantation and language growth over 2-year intervals.
Results: Mothers showed individual differences in how they modified speech in ID versus AD registers. Crucially, these individual differences significantly predicted differences in estimated language outcomes at 2 years postimplantation in children with CIs. Maternal speech variation in lexical quantity and vowel space area differences across ID and AD registers most frequently predicted estimates of language attainment in children with CIs, whereas prosodic differences played a minor role.
Conclusion: Results support that caregiver language behaviors play a substantial role in explaining variability in language attainment in children receiving CIs.

Supplemental Material S1. Additional participant enrollment; F0 measurement details; vowel measurement details; additional analyses.

Dilley, L., Lehet, M., Wieland, E. A., Arjmandi, M. K., Kondaurova, M., Wang, Y., Reed, J., Svirsky, M., Houston, D., & Bergseen, T. (2020). Individual difference in mothers' spontaneous infant-directed speech predict language attainment in children with cochlear implants. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication.