Cultural, Socioeconomic, and Gender Differences
Differences in the interactions of mothers and infants may reflect cultural differences, especially as regards the assumed intentionality of infants to communicate (Toda, Fogel, & Kawai, 1990). Mothers in the United States are more information oriented than mothers in Japan. U.S. mothers are more chatty and use more questions, especially of the yes/no type, as well as more grammatically correct utterances with their 3-month-olds. In contrast, Japanese mothers are more affect oriented and use more nonsense, onomatopoetic, and environmental sounds, more baby talk, and more babies' names. These differences may reflect each society's assumptions about infants and adult-to-adult cultural styles of talking. In the United States styles are direct and emphasize individual expression. Styles in Japan are more intuitive and indirect and emphasize empathy and conformity.
Japanese mothers also vocalize less with their 3-month-old infants but offer, in turn, more physical contact than do mothers in the United States (Otaki et al., 1986; Shand & Kosawa, 1985). This difference is also reflected in more frequent nonverbal responding by Japanese mothers and more frequent verbal responding by U.S. mothers (Fogel, Toda, & Kawai, 1988). The types of utterances to which mothers are most likely to respond also differ. U.S. mothers are more likely to respond to their 3-month-old's positive cooing and comfort sounds, while Japanese mothers are more likely to respond to discomfort or fussing sounds (Morikawa, Shand, & Kosawa, 1988). In response, Japanese mothers try to soothe their infants with speech. U.S. mothers are more likely to talk to maintain attention while Japanese mothers talk more within vocal activities to elicit vocalizations.
Mothers make use of pitch very early. In English, a rising contour is used to gain an infant's attention. This pattern is not universal. For example, mothers speaking Thai to their infants use a falling pitch pattern, and those speaking Quiche Mayan, a native Mexican language, use a flat or falling contour. Maternal speech patterns are acquired behaviors, reflecting the culture in which the mother was raised.
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