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Maternal speech to infants has been theorized to be an important elicitor of infants’ vocalizations and to facilitate later language development (Bornstein, 2015; Gathercole & Hoff, 2007; MacWhinney, 2004). Despite the developmental importance of mother-infant vocal exchanges, and despite the fact that cultural norms vary regarding linguistic input to children (e.g., Bornstein, Putnick, Cote, Haynes, & Suwalsky, 2015), few studies have examined immigrant dyads’ vocal interactions using a cross-cultural perspective. Thus, immigrant mothers’ and infants’ vocalizations were compared to dyads both in the cultures of origin and destination, and to each other. Novel methods were also used -- sequential analyses explored the sequencing and contingency of mother-infant vocalizations in real time.
Participating families were from three immigrant groups in the United States (South American, n = 33; Japanese, n = 32; South Korean, n = 59), three cultures of origin (Argentina, n = 48; Japan, n = 46; South Korea, n = 52), and one culture of destination (European Americans in the United States, n = 40). Mothers and their 5½-month-old infants were videorecorded for 50 min behaving naturalistically at home. Two behaviors were coded: The rate (frequency) of mothers’ speech to infants and infants’ nondistress vocalizations. Interrater reliabilities were acceptable for each culture (ks ≥ .60). Sequential analyses were performed using GSEQ (http://www2.gsu.edu/~psyrab/gseq/Download.html) to generate odds ratios (the likelihood that partner B responded within 2 sec after partner A’s vocalization ended).
3 (Culture) x 2 (Gender) MAN(C)OVAs examined cross-cultural and intracultural differences in the rates of infant vocalization and odds ratios of maternal and infant vocal responsiveness. No intracultural (differences among immigrant samples) or gender differences were found on any dependent variables and will not be discussed further. Infants in the culture of destination vocalized significantly more than all immigrant infants, and infants in South America vocalized significantly more than South American immigrant infants (Fig. 1). Remarkably, these results are nearly identical to patterns of differences in vocabulary size found between immigrant toddlers and their peers in the cultures of origin and destination with these samples fifteen months later (MASKED), demonstrating both developmental continuity between infant vocalization and later language development, and that a lag in immigrant children’s language development is evident early.
One sample t-tests revealed that maternal speech was significantly contingent (coordinated in real time) on infant vocalizations (i.e., mean odds ratios were significantly greater than 1.00, p < .05) for all immigrant dyads, and infants’ nondistress vocalizations were significantly contingent on mothers’ speech for all except Japanese immigrant dyads (Fig. 2). These results replicate previous research suggesting that vocal contingency is a universal feature of mother-infant interaction (Bornstein et al., 2015), extending it to bilingual immigrant samples for the first time.
Korean immigrant mothers were significantly more responsive to their infants’ vocalizations than mothers in South Korea (Fig. 2). No differences in infant responsiveness were found. Few cultural differences in maternal and infant responsiveness to vocalizations suggest that mother-infant vocal attunement is not necessarily disrupted by the immigration experience.