Vocal imitation between mothers and infants.


Athari P(1), Dey R(1), Rvachew S(2).
Author information:
(1)School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of McGill, Canada.
(2)School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of McGill, Canada. Electronic address: [Email]


The aim of the present mixed cross-sectional and longitudinal study was to observe and describe some aspects of vocal imitation in natural mother-infant interaction. Specifically, maternal imitation of infant utterances was observed in relation to the imitative modeling, mirrored equivalence, and social guided learning models of infant speech development. Nine mother-infant dyads were audio-video recorded. Infants were recruited at different ages between 6 and 11 months and followed for 3 months, providing a quasi-longitudinal series of data from 6 through 14 months of age. It was observed that maternal imitation was more frequent than infant imitation even though vocal imitation was a rare maternal response. Importantly, mothers used a range of contingent and noncontingent vocal responses in interaction with their infants. Mothers responded to three-quarters of their infant's vocalizations, including speech-like and less mature vocalization types. The infants' phonetic repertoire expanded with age. Overall, the findings are most consistent with the social guided learning approach. Infants rarely imitated their mothers, suggests a creative self-motivated learning mechanism that requires further investigation.