The findings showed that children are better at grasping the names of objects with repeated syllables, over words with non-identical syllables.
“This is the first evidence to show that infants have a repetition bias in learning new words,” said lead researcher Mitsuhiko Ota from University of Edinburgh in Britain.
This may be the reason why words or phrases, such as ‘train’ and ‘good night’, have given rise to versions with repeated syllables, such as choo-choo and night-night
Such words are easier for infants to learn, and may provide them with a starter point for vocabulary learning.
“The study also shows that there may be a good reason why in so many cultures across the world, existing adult words and expressions are replaced by words with repeated syllables in baby-talk vocabulary. Some examples could be tum-tum, mama, dada, din-din and wee-wee,” Ota added.
For the study, published in the journal Language Learning and Development, the team assessed language learning behaviour among 18-month-olds in a series of visual and attention tests using pictures on a computer screen of two unfamiliar objects.
The two objects were named with made-up words, which were communicated to the infants by a recorded voice - one with two identical syllables, for example neenee, and the other without repeated syllables, such as bolay.
The infants were then tested for their recognition of each made-up word.
Recordings of their eye movements showed they looked more reliably at the object labelled with repeated syllables, than the other object.