Babytalk as a communication of intimate attachment: An initial study in adult romances and friendships


  • Portions of this study were presented at the biennial conference of the International Network on Personal Relationships, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 1993, and the annual conference of the New York Women's Studies Association, Plattsburgh, New York, April 1995. The study was conducted while Lawrence (Rip) Littig was an undergraduate student at Elmira College. We are grateful to the following for their invaluable technical and procedural assistance: Bob Cavalier, Joe Fahs, Katy Reidy Galvin, Nancy Koschmann, Rich LaVere, Karen Record, Donna Wertheimer, and Rick Wesp. We also thank Kelly Brennan, Keith Davis, and the other editors and reviewers who gave helpful comments on drafts of this article.

Address correspondence to: Meredith Bombar, 4 Coleman Ave., Elmira, NY 14905.


Babytalk is a speech register that has been studied most extensively as it is spoken by mothers to infants, but without attention to its possible role in emotional bonding. We suggest that babytalk plays such a role–that it expresses and facilitates intimate psychological connection, and in a variety of relationships. We first overview relevant literature to show that an association between babytalk and intimate attachment makes sense. Then we report a questionnaire study, which is the first to explore this association as well as the first empirical documentation that babytalk occurs in adult romances and friendships. Self-reported features and examples of the speech register (as spoken in a particular romance) verified it as babytalk. Individuals who had babytalked to friends or romantic partners tended to be more secure and less avoidant with regard to attachments in general. Within a particular romantic relationship, indicators of intimacy and attachment accounted for about 22% of the variance in babytalk frequency. Partner's babytalking was the strongest predictor, accounting for about 42% of the variance. Communication intentions accompanying babytalk paralleled the hallmarks of attachment, especially affection and play. These and other results suggest that babytalk functions in the process of intimate personal connection.