It is possible that the concept of materés is unknown to more than one person, although it is most likely that he or she has used it at some time or will use it at some point. For example when a friend or relative introduces us to their baby, or directly when we have children. The fact is that the mother is the loving and at the same time peculiar language that we usually use when interacting with babies and very young children. In this article we will briefly discuss this way of communicating.

What is the maternity ward?

Maternal or parentese, also known as caregiver’s language or speech, is the style of non-verbal speech and expression we typically use to address a baby . It is a dialect of the language we use to communicate that has its own characteristics in terms of intonation, grammar or even lexicon.

This way of communicating uses a very careful pronunciation and vocalization in which an exaggerated intonation stands out, sharpening the voice and separating words and phrases in a marked way. These tend to be short and repetitive, and focus on the present.

Another striking feature of this type of speech is that it often simplifies the lexicon: words are reduced (changing pacifier to pete is an example) or even transformed to become onomatopoeia (for example, talking about woof-woo instead of using the word dog). It is also common to repeat structures, words and phrases in short periods . It is also common to abuse diminutives.

But maternity is not only oral , but we also usually accompany this dialect with abundant gestures, physical contact and expression through body language. For example, we smile, touch them, point out things in the environment or pretend to be surprised when we see, for example, a dog.

Also, the person who is speaking is not doing a monologue, but is interacting with the baby and in fact usually comes up with some kind of dialogue, responding to the baby with movements, looking at or seeking our gaze, kicking, gurgling or making a sound. We usually respond to these responses orally or by rewarding the baby with our attention or pampering .

The importance of this way of speaking

We generally use the maternity ward without thinking about exactly why, and some people find it ridiculous and ineffective. However, its use with a baby makes a lot of sense and is very useful for the baby’s development.

First of all, the intonation we use with the maternal is highly emotional and tends to reflect positive emotions and feelings towards the infant , which facilitates the existence of positive communication and the establishment of affective relationships between baby and speaker. Likewise, as we have said, we do not limit ourselves to talking and that is it, but we sustain an interaction that the baby captures and to which he or she responds, establishing bonds with the adult or person who communicates with him or her.

In addition, variations in intonation and exaggerated stress are stimuli that attract the baby’s attention, who will tend to pay more attention to the sounds and their source than to adult speech.

Usually, such exaggerated emphasis takes place in fragments of speech that contain relevant properties to be learned, making it easier for the baby to record them in the future. The child listens to phrases that are not very complex and that will gradually become understandable , and can then go deeper. It is therefore a very important language that, although it does not in itself create language learning, it contributes to and facilitates its acquisition.

Not just with babies: who else do we use it on?

Although maternity is a style of speech that we may or may not use, generally it is carried out with subjects who awaken in us certain physiological reactions , triggering the synthesis of different hormones. Among these, dopamine, oxytocin (associated with emotional bonding) and the also associated with the affective bonding phenylethylamine stand out.

However, this does not mean that the use or non-use of the maternity hospital depends on these hormones (in fact, although it is common in our society, in other contexts it is not used despite the fact that the emotional reactions generated by the children are the same).

Usually when we talk about maternity we imagine someone talking and communicating with a newborn or a small child. But the truth is that this type of speech does not only apply to motherhood or fatherhood but has spread to other areas.


One of them is the one with the pets. It is not uncommon to hear someone talking maternally to dogs, cats, rabbits or other animals, usually when they are being given affection. Although many of the animals that keep us company are not able to really understand what we are saying (despite being able to understand some specific request with training), they are able to capture the intonation and emotion imprinted on it.


Another area where sometimes the same language is applied as we would with a child is in the couple’s area. Although in this case the comprehension of the language is usually complete on both sides, some couples use the maternal language as a way of interacting in an affective way , as a way of expressing the appreciation, devotion or sweetness that the other person arouses, or as a little joke to sting their partner.

Bibliographic references:

  • Karmiloff, K. and Karmiloff-Smith, A.(2005). Towards language. From fetus to adolescent. Ediciones Morata, S.L. Madrid.
  • Martí, M. (2015). Neurological bases of language. Language processing in children; In M. del C. Fernández López (coord.): La enseñanza del español como lengua extranjera a niños: contenidos básicos para la formación del docente. Alcalá de Henares: Publications Service of the University of Alcalá, pp. 93-161.
  • Puente, A. (2006). The origins of language (with G. Rusell). Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
  • Seltzer, L.F. (2013) The real reason why couples use baby talk. Psychology Today. Online. Available at:
  • Serra, M.; Serrat, E; Solé, R.; Bel, A. and Aparici, M. (2008). Language acquisition. Barcelona: Editorial Ariel.