Dolphins speak "baby talk" to offspring

Dolphins speak "baby talk" to offspring

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When people speak to small kids, they tend to change the pitch, sentence structure and speed of their speech. Now, marine biologists have discovered that dolphins do the same, according to a paper published in the journal PNAS.

Have you ever noticed that when adults speak to babies or small children, they speak in a distinctively specific manner? As if by instinct, they speak in a high-pitched voice, with clear pronunciation and longer pauses between words.

It seems that this “baby talk” is not reserved for humans. Researchers have discovered that dolphins too indulge in baby talk—by changing their characteristic whistles and frequencies—when they communicate with their offspring.

Strengthen emotional connection

Among other things, studies have found that this special way of speaking can help with language acquisition. It is suggested that this special communication of the dolphin mothers with their offspring may help to increase attention, create an emotional bond and promote the calves’ vocal learning.

To date, similar behaviour has not been detected in other animals.

The researchers, who hailed from the US, Italy, Great Britain and Denmark, came to this conclusion after studying bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, a lagoon on the Florida’s western coast. The dolphins were captured and housed alternately with either their calves or other adult dolphins.

During gatherings, calves and their mothers exchanged whistles almost continuously. It was observed that the mothers whistled at significantly higher maximum frequencies and with greater frequency deviations when they were with their calves, as compared to when they were with other adult dolphins.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences