Babytalk: A Phenomenon!

Does every couple develop a dialect/accent/language/voice of their own? Particularly babytalk? Is it necessary for lovers to speak to one another in babytalk in order for the other to understand? Do they think it disguises what they’re saying from others around them even though it’s a universal language?

I haven’t been in a relationship in a while and I can’t remember if my ex and I had a secret language. Yes, sometimes I spoke to him in a higher, goo-goo-ga-ga-ly pitch asking things like, “Do you really love me? Do you REAAAAAAAALLLLLLY love me? How much? THIS much? Okay okay, I wuv you tooo!” I’m exaggerating, but it seems like all couples have a special way of communicating such insecurities. But must we talk like babies to do so??

I have a friend who-shall-not-be-named who shares a special dialect of English/Irish/babytalk with her boyfriend that is mostly used, from my observations, when talking about their feelings. If their conversation transitions into something more serious, like about work and school, they use regular English. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very cute accent they share, but I’m still curious as to why their voices digress to infant-hood when wishing each other good night?

Another friend who-shall-not-be-named seems to have permanently engaged babytalk. Her boyfriend has adapted to this language very well, and I dare say 75% of their conversations (at least around me) are spoken in this obnoxious pitch. To get in on the dialogue, I had to adjust the level of my own voice to match theirs. If this offers any explanation to the phenomenon, they are Chinese, and from what I’ve seen on Chinese television, babytalk is commonly used by young women.


In fact, the baby is so darn cute these days that adult women not only emulate them in speech, but also in habit. At a restaurant several weeks ago, my cousins and I were appalled to see a 20-something Chinese woman suck on a baby bottle!!!!! Filled with milk!! In public!!! All the while she was taking photos of herself with puckered lips and too much hair in her face. The woman sitting across from her, presumably her mother, was unmoved. My cousins and I, on the other hand, oh we were moved. We were moved by the way she couldn’t actually suck the milk out of the nipple so she unscrewed the top and sipped from the rim. She’s an adult after all! 

It just occurred to me that my friends who have been in really long relationships – the married type and the soon-to-be married type – including my parents and my friends’ parents, do not break out in special languages/accents/dialects/babytalk with their partners. I wonder if it’s because they grow out of it, just like babies do? Or maybe because they master keeping it an actual secret? Or because couples who have been together for so long no longer need to express their feelings through absurd voices?

Like I said, I have not been in a relationship in a while and can’t remember what it’s like communicating with a lover. But I hope when the next boyfriend rolls along, we won’t confess our love for each other like overgrown babies. At least not in front of other people.

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14 Comments on “Babytalk: A Phenomenon!”

  1. I feel you on this one, nothing annoys me more than seeing a grown woman or man talking in baby talk to their significant other. Sadly, I started doing it ironically to my cats and dog and have almost picked it up as a habit. I catch myself and stop.
    I tell myself that the next relationship I am in if the baby talk starts then I will need to sit her down to have an adult conversation. And like you I can’t remember if there was baby talk in my last relationship. But my next one will not have it if I have anything to say on the matter.
    Doing things ironically usually ends up in it becoming a habit.
    I don’t try to drink out of a baby bottle though. And I don’t see myself ever trying that out of pure irony, hopefully.

    • Emily He says:

      hahaha I do talk to babies in babytalk, but that’s because it’s their language and I’m just trying to communicate with them! As for animals, I’m sure I do it too. I’m glad you don’t drink out of a baby bottle, even to be ironic. It’s weird, and that’s it.

  2. Currie Rose says:

    Wow! This is a very interesting post and it got me thinking about how my partner and I used to communicate with one another when we were together. I shudder to admit that he and I used baby talk…. As I read through your post and thought about my own experience, I think people revert to this because being in love involves trust… Trusting someone on an intimate level means making yourself vulnerable to the other person. When are we most vulnerable? When we are babies… and an intimate relationship is a version of deep vulnerability…. opening your heart. I think when I used babytalk (and my ex-husband too), it was because I didn’t know how to own the position of vulnerability I was in, nor did I know how to feel safe with my heart wide open. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I seek in a relationship and what love looks like to me. Thank you for this post, because it reminds me that when I am in a relationship and my heart is wide open, that my intention will be to own it… to show up as a grown up and understand that it is my choice to open my heart and my choice to speak up to my lover and express how I am feeling, from a place of beautiful authenticity…. Not like I don’t want a fun and playful relationship (I definitely do!)… but I want to be able to just own and express how I feel without having to use special voices as a way to somehow protect myself. Love is a gamble and I think when we own it, no matter what the outcome, we become empowered to show up and be completely present not only with expressing ourselves, but also with all the ups and downs associated with a close bond to another.

    • Emily He says:

      Currie, thanks SO much for this extremely personal comment! I didn’t expect to get such a thoughtful response, but I’m glad it made you reflect on your own life. And in turn, you’ve made me re-reflect on my own post! I agree that vulnerability and trust are tied, and playfulness is an integral part of love no? There has to be some fun, and I guess some people do it through babytalk. I am not in a position to call it inauthentic. However, you’ve shed light on something: babytalk as a resort to fear. I never thought about babytalk as a barrier, or as something to hide behind, but now that I think about it, you’re absolutely right! I used to resort to babytalk when I felt like what I had to say would sound too cheesy if I said it in my real voice, so expressing myself through babytalk was a mechanism to protect myself from my own vulnerability! This is eye-opening! Of course, some people do love babytalk and it’s great if it doesn’t mask their fear, but for me, from now on, if I feel too insecure to express myself in all me, I’ll know something is wrong with my relationship.This is enlightening. And all thanks to babies!

  3. It’s not babytalk but my wife and I have a hybrid language of English spoken in Chinese grammatical structure – no goo goo or ga ga but it must sound really odd to eavesdroppers.

  4. lostnchina says:

    Two things I will not do in relationships – baby talk AND wearing matchy matchy clothing (shudder).

  5. b r says:

    Wow! Talk about infantilism.

    I always wonder why we dive into ‘cute’ talk. Maybe it’s a cry to return to the earliest stages of life, when things (including love) were a whole lot easier.

    -b

    • Emily He says:

      yes, babyhood was the time of my life. I didn’t have to worry about a thing and everything was fascinating. If I could be Peter Pan, I totally would be.

  6. Well, I am not familiar with that behaviour. However, I have a friend who-shall-not-be-named who would talk to her boyfriend as if he was a child. “Show J. the hat you bought!” “Tell J. what you did today!” I know she was proud of him and he was a bit too humble/shy to talk about himself, but at times it was just awkward! I am sure there are plenty of couples like that around — plenty of bossy women and men who like being mothered…

    • Emily He says:

      Ooh yes..in fact, I was standing behind a college couple today and the girl kept telling the boy to “shhhhh” and “don’t talk!” I certainly don’t want to be in a relationship where my partner tells me to “shhhhhh” all the time!

  7. [...] can probably tell I’m reminiscent of childhood (but I wouldn’t go so far as to start acting like a baby). I like to believe that some of my imagination is still intact and that the rooms of my future [...]

  8. Laura F says:

    This NYTimes article “The Brain on Love” reminded me of your post, did you read it?

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/?scp=18&sq=love&st=cse


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