Project 2, Option # 2: For this project I decided to examine the Child Directed Speech (CDS) used in the show

Sesame Street. The show has many characters, some take the role of parental-type figures and others seem to behave more like children. The sort of speech used by “adult” actors and puppets when addressing the audience, child actors on the show, or immature puppets could certainly be characterized as CDS. According to John Field (2004), parents will modify their use of CDS to fit with their child’s linguistic needs. Taking this view into account when listening to the way CDS is directed towards the camera and child actors in the show, it seems the show aims at a pre-school demographic (3-5 years old). Examples from Sesame Street: 1. “Oh HII. Welcome! To Sesame Street.” 2. “TIME. To practice. Everybody READY??” 3. “Now. What’s the THIRD part??” 4. “Quick! Count to ten. And no peeking!” 5. “I’ll give you another clue. He’s under something.” “Hmm. Under. Under AND over something…” 6. “Devon has some REAL neat things to show you here. Don’t you Devon?” 7. “BABY! How do YOU wiggle your ears Baby?? Thank you BABY!” 8. “Can you HEAR a violin?” 9. “Yes! You CAN do it!” 10. “MICE have LITTLE.. ROUND.. EARS” CDS as used in the show is characterized in terms of prosodic, lexical and

syntactic features, which distinguish it from ordinary speech. Characters almost always use a high-pitched, slow, exaggerated tone that sounds almost sarcastic. They stress key words, lengthen vowels, pause for longer and more often, and clearly mark word boundaries [see 1, 2, 9, 10]. Utterances are generally very short, simple and easy to listen to. Lexically, they use common CDS variants such as peek, squeaky, nite-nite (note the reduplication of the morpheme), ta-da, wobble, wiggle and many others. The most common type of CDS in Sesame Street seems to be questions. In fact, almost every CDS phrase in the show comes in the form of a question. These are directed at anyone and everyone, including reflexively back at their speaker. The questions themselves are often short and Wh-fronted [see 3]. Repetition of subjects, objects, and any other word taking a thematic role in the sentence is also common [see 5 and 7]. Repetition of the letter, word, and number of the day is very common as well as repetition of general phrases such as “practice makes perfect.” Questions are often used repeatedly in order to guide the listener to what the speaker thinks is the proper utterance or thought. This is especially apparent in Elmo’s conversation with a young boy who he tries to encourage to tell about his seashell collection [see 6]. These sorts of questions in the show appear to be consistent with the argument that CDS uses questions to provide syntactic scaffolding and correction for the child’s utterances (Field 2004). Spanish and ASL are also used quite in the show to help re-assure children that their way of communication is acceptable and welcomed (Connell et. al. 1970). From these Sesame Street examples we see that CDS is both distinct from everyday speech as well as custom made to hold the attention of and be understood by the

listener. It differs from normal speech in terms of its specialized prosodic, lexical and syntactic features designed to make the show appealing to kids.

Works Cited Connell, David, and Edward Palmer. "Sesame Street: A Lot of Off-

Beat Education: A Dialogue." National Elementary Principal 50 (1970): 14-25. Episode 184. Sesame Street PBS. WNET New York: CTW, 5 Jan. Field, John. Psycholinguistics: the Key Concepts. New York: Routledge, 2004. 54-55.