Mothering Tongues: Anthropological Perspectives on Language and the Mother-Infant Nexus

  • Sallie HanEmail author
Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


While early-life experiences shape and influence the health and well-being of individuals over the course of their lifetimes (and even that of generations to come), the experiences of children and childhood also can be quite diverse. Ethnographies of parenting remind us there is no single correct or even optimal way to raise children. In studies of children and language, it is clear that children—raised in diverse contexts and conditions according to the various practices and ideas of their communities—all become competently and even successfully linguistic, cognitive, cultural, and social beings. This point seems to be missed currently in so much of the popular advice, policy, and research on language and children, even though it is understood that infancy and even pregnancy, as well as early childhood, are critical periods of human development. To this end, the focus in this chapter will be on the concerns that have been raised in recent years in the United States about language and the mother–infant nexus. Drawing from ethnographic research on pregnancy and parenting in the U.S., I consider the claims that have been made about the practices currently prescribed to parents for cultivating their children’s engagements with language and literacy. I suggest these must be recognised as particular to the context and condition of American middle-class pregnancy and parenting.


Reproduction Pregnancy Foetus Language Talk Word gap 



The study on pediatrics and literacy was supported by a SUNY Oneonta Faculty Research Grant and undertaken with the cooperation of the Research Institute at Bassett Medical Center, Cooperstown, NY.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, SUNY OneontaOneontaUSA

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