University of Oulu

Rantalainen, K., Paavola-Ruotsalainen, L., & Kunnari, S. (2022). Maternal responsiveness and directiveness in speech to 2-year-olds: Relationships with children’s concurrent and later vocabulary. First Language, 42(1), 81–100.

Maternal responsiveness and directiveness in speech to 2-year-olds : relationships with children’s concurrent and later vocabulary

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Author: Rantalainen, Katariina1,2; Paavola-Ruotsalainen, Leila1; Kunnari, Sari1
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Finland
2Puheterapia Virke, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.3 MB)
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Language: English
Published: SAGE Publications, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-11-01


This study investigated responsive and directive speech from 60 Finnish mothers to their 2-year-old children, as well as correlations with concurrent and later vocabulary. Possible gender differences with regard to both maternal speech and children’s vocabulary skills were considered. There were no gender differences in maternal utterance frequencies or in maternal utterance types. Girls scored statistically significantly higher in receptive and expressive vocabulary tests at 24, 30 and 36 months. The effect sizes were large. Maternal Other Utterances (fillers like yes, oh, umm) were correlated with children’s concurrent receptive vocabulary. However, there was no relationship between Other Utterances and children’s later vocabulary after controlling for vocabulary size at 24 months. This association may reflect an attempt by mothers to elicit speech from more linguistically advanced children. Furthermore, mothers’ Intrusive Directives towards 2-year-olds correlated negatively with receptive vocabulary at 30 months, particularly for boys. Surprisingly, Intrusive Attentional Directives correlated positively with expressive vocabulary in the group of 30-month-old girls. The results of this study demonstrate relationships between maternal verbal interactional style and both concurrent and future child vocabulary.

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Series: First language
ISSN: 0142-7237
ISSN-E: 1740-2344
ISSN-L: 0142-7237
Volume: 42
Issue: 1
Pages: 81 - 100
DOI: 10.1177/01427237211049585
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 616 Other humanities
Funding: This work was supported by the Eudaimonia Institute, University of Oulu.
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2021. The final authenticated version is available online at