Maternal verbal sensitivity and child language comprehension

Lisa Baumwell, Catherine S. Tamis-LeMonda, Marc H. Bornstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This longitudinal investigation examined covariation among specific maternal behaviors and their differential prediction of children's language comprehension across the transition to beginning speech. Forty mother-infant dyads were videotaped during free play in their homes when children were 9 and 13 months old. At each age, six maternal behaviors and children's language comprehension were assessed. Two factors of maternal interaction, labeled verbal sensitivity and verbal intrusiveness, were extracted at the two ages; the two factors were stable across this 4-month period. Nine-month maternal sensitivity, but not intrusiveness, uniquely predicted 13-month child language comprehension and did so over and above children's 9-month language comprehension, which was itself stable between the two ages. Maternal verbal sensitivity was especially influential in promoting comprehension among children who were initially lower in language comprehension, a finding that has implications for the design of intervention strategies. These findings confirm models of environmental specificity which state that certain aspects of parenting, in contrast with others, affect particular outcomes in the child; in this regard, we contrast the importance of maternal verbal sensitivity for children's language development with other kinds of maternal interaction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-258
Number of pages12
JournalInfant Behavior and Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997


  • Child language comprehension
  • Maternal intrusiveness
  • Maternal sensitivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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