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Why Do We Use the Same Voice to Talk to Babies and Dogs?

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Hiiiiiiieeee! Who’s a little sweetie? You, yes, you are!

Sound familiar? Even if you yourself have never talked this way to anyone, you’ve probably heard someone do it. But if you try to picture who’s on the receiving end of this interaction, is it a baby or is it a dog?

It could be either one. Linguists have studied the characteristics of the way people talk to babies and to pets and found a great deal of overlap. The features of both infant-directed speech (also known as motherese) and pet-directed speech include swooping intonation contours, higher pitch, and slow articulation.

Why do people use these features? In the case of infant-directed speech, researchers believe they may be useful for encouraging language development in the child by highlighting important contrasts between sounds and holding attention. Our impulse to speak this way to babies may have a biological basis stemming from an evolutionary advantage for behaviors that promote language acquisition. However, not all cultures use this type of infant-directed speech, and babies in cultures without it do still learn language. Humans learn language whether or not anyone talks to them in a sing-song, high-pitched tone.

So baby talk might not actually help babies learn to talk. But when babies do start to talk, using words and sentences, caregivers begin to drop the exaggerated tone. The adult tendency to sing-song seems to be triggered not so much by the urge to instruct, but by the perception that the person we’re talking to doesn’t know our language.

The perception seems to underlie why we also talk to dogs in this voice. We know they’re not going to learn to talk, but we can’t help going into baby talk mode. And since, while they can learn to understand various things, they never start using words and sentences, our baby talk habits persist.

A recent study by Tobey Ben-Aderet and colleagues, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that people use high-pitched, dog-directed speech patterns even while reading sentences to pictures of dogs. While the features were a bit more exaggerated for pictures of puppies than for adult dogs, they were used across the age range. It was not a response to “babyness,” per se.

They then played the recorded sentences to dogs over a speaker and recorded their reactions. While puppies did respond more strongly to dog-directed speech patterns, adult dogs showed no preference for it. This may be because adult dogs are more responsive to people they know, and the recorded speakers were unfamiliar, but it may also suggest, according to the report, "that pet-directed speech exploits perceptual biases which are present in puppies but not in adult dogs.” Baby talk may be somehow functionally useful, but only for puppies.

Usefulness isn’t everything, though. The authors conclude:

"This study suggests that dogs may appear as mostly non-verbal companions to humans who consequently modify their speech features as they do when speaking to young infants. Such a speaking strategy seems to be employed in other contexts where the speaker feels, consciously or unconsciously, that the listener may not fully master language or has difficulty in speech intelligibility, such as during interactions with elderly people, or when speaking to a linguistic foreigner."

We don’t talk to dogs like babies because we see them as babies, or even necessarily because they're cute, but because we see them as having a harder time understanding us. Dog-directed speech features may actually help them understand us, but even if it doesn't, we'll probably keep on using it. Won't we! Won't we, baby! Yes, we will! We will! MWAH!

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environment
The UK Wants to Ban Wet Wipes, And Parents Aren't Happy About It
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The United Kingdom has grown determined in recent years to reduce consumption of single-use products that pollute the environment. In April, fast food restaurant fans were dismayed to hear that plastic drinking straws are being phased out; plastic cotton swabs are also on the chopping block. Now, users of wet wipes that remove makeup and clean infant bottoms are looking at a future where reaching for one of the disposable cloths may not be so easy.

The BBC reports that wet wipes containing non-biodegradable plastic are being targeted for elimination in the coming years. The wipes contribute to “fatbergs,” giant impactions of waste that can slow or block movement in sewage systems. By some estimates, 93 percent of blockages are caused by consumers flushing the wet wipes into toilets despite package instructions to throw them in the garbage.

Not everyone is backing the move, however. Jeremy Freedman, who manufactures the wipes under the name Guardpack, says that the wipes are useful to health care workers and food preparation employees. He argues their use also conserves water normally reserved for handwashing.

The most vocal critics might be parents, who use the wipes to clean their baby’s bottom following a diaper change. Sentiments like “ban the fools that flush them!” are circulating on Twitter. The UK is looking to phase out the wipes and other problematic plastic products over the next 25 years.

[h/t BBC]

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Finance
Here's How Much It Costs to Have a Baby in America
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From the time they're conceived to the day they graduate college, children come with a pricey bill—a mix of health care costs, living expenses, education, and other expenses. Not surprisingly, that financial drain begins as soon as you get your first hospital bill following their birth.

According to the The Economist, which cites the International Federation of Health Plans, the average cost of a non-Caesarean delivery in the United States in 2015 was $10,808. When including health care needed both during and after pregnancy, the total is roughly $30,000.

Obviously, those with health insurance aren't burdened with the full amount of that bill. But co-pays, deductibles, and other costs passed to parents mean the average hospital fee is roughly $3000 out of pocket. That cost typically covers the obstetrician's fee, hospital facility fees, and anesthesiology.

This figure can fluctuate depending on which state parents live in. In Alabama, for example, it could cost as little as $5017 to bring your child into the world, while New Yorkers are more likely to field bills in the amount of $8936. Compared to other nations, America usually comes in first on the list of the most expensive places to procreate. If you have a baby in Spain, for example, fees associated with the birth might come to an average $1950.

[h/t The Economist]

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