An association between mothers’ speech clarity and infants’ speech discrimination skills


Address for correspondence: Huei-Mei Liu, Department of Special Education, National Taiwan Normal University, Taipei, Taiwan; e-mail:


The quality of speech directed towards infants may play an important role in infants’ language development. However, few studies have examined the link between the two. We examined the correlation between maternal speech clarity and infant speech perception performance in two groups of Mandarin-speaking mother–infant pairs. Maternal speech clarity was assessed using the degree of expansion of the vowel space, a measure previously shown to reflect the intelligibility of words and sentences. Speech discrimination in the infants (6–8 and 10–12-month-olds) was measured using a head-turn task. The results show that mothers’ vowel space area is significantly correlated with infants’ speech discrimination performance. Socioeconomic data from both parents show that the result cannot be attributed to parental socioeconomic factors. This study is correlational and therefore a causal relationship cannot be firmly established. However, the results are consistent with the view that maternal speech clarity directly affects infants’ early language learning.