Bernstein Ratner Corpus

Nan Bernstein Ratner
Hearing and Speech Sciences
University of Maryland


Participants: 9
Type of Study: naturalistic
Location: USA
Media type: audio
DOI: doi:10.21415/T5CC7X

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In accordance with TalkBank rules, any use of data from this corpus must be accompanied by at least one of the above references.


The participants were nine mother–child dyads who were followed for a period of 4 to 5 months each. Each dyad has three transcripts. The mothers were all college-educated women, who were native-born Americans with white-collar husbands. The children (all girls) ranged in age from 1;1 to 1;9 at first taping. The ages of each child are posted on the very first line of each transcript file. Three of the children began the study as prelinguistic infants (Kay, Amelia, and Dale). Three began as “holophrastic” language users (Alice, Cin-dy, and Marie). Three began and finished as multi-word utterance producers (Lena, Gail, and Annie). These names do not correspond to those listed in either Bernstein (1982) or some subsequent articles, due to the request by CHILDES to provide pseudonyms. Children in each of the first two groups made significant linguistic progress into higher lan-guage stages during the course of the study


Children and their mothers played for approximately 45 minutes at each session with the same selection of toys (blocks, stuffed animals, puppets, books, and so forth). Most of the sessions were followed by a parental interview. These interviews are collected in a sub-directory entitled “interview.” The purpose of the interview was to gather a sample of the mothers’ speech for comparison against the mother–child condition. In order to obtain ex-emplars of mother-adult words to match to the mother–child condition, the questioning sometimes wandered. In addition, to save transcription time, the mothers’ responses to the investigator’s questions are provided, but the investigator’s comments are omitted.


These transcripts were derived from reel-to-reel audiotaped interactions carried out in a sound-proof playroom at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Research Laboratory of Electronics during 1979 and 1980. The original inquiry regarded phonetic characteristics of maternal speech. The quality of the audio recordings of both mothers and children is extremely fine. Mothers wore lavaliere microphones with Sony™ ECM-50s and the interac-tions were taped on a Revox™ A77. These tapes will be made available to any researcher who requests them, with the provisos that the researcher receive some sort of authorship credit for subsequent research derived from them, and that the costs of materials and labor to duplicate the tapes be borne by the requesting researcher.

The children’s language skills were not a primary focus of any of the research carried out to date using these samples. As a result, although phonetic transcriptions of the children have been provided, they are very rough. Given the notorious difficulty of obtaining reli-ability in the transcription of prelinguistic and early child phonetic strings, it is recommend-ed that any researcher interested in doing a phonological analysis of the children’s data request the original audiotapes. The children are transcribed in UNIBET, with minimal fine detail. To create uniformity, and to read as little as possible into the children’s output, most of the children are phonetically transcribed, even when their productions appear to corre-spond to adult forms. The majority of the children’s productions are phonetic, rather than phonemic, given the ages of the children. Some of the older children’s transcripts include regular English orthography.

Miscellaneous Notes

Amelia was a nonidentical twin. Her mother’s speech to the other twin girl was also re-corded for 6 months, but has not been provided. It is available on request. A series of three tapes of a mother conversing with a girl thought to be language-delayed and eliminated from the first and subsequent studies is available without transcript. Finally, a girl having linguistic skills similar to Lena, but with a more talkative mother, was taped for a manuscript in preparation and can be provided without transcription. Copies of the dissertation (Bernstein, 1982) can be obtained upon request, as can more information about particular participants or other issues. Please feel free to contact Dr. Bernstein Ratner if you have questions regarding these samples.