Birdsong is considered a model of human speech development at behavioral and neural levels. Few direct tests of the proposed analogs exist, however. Here we test a mechanism of phonological development in human infants that is based on social shaping, a selective learning process first documented in songbirds. By manipulating mothers' reactions to their 8-month-old infants' vocalizations, we demonstrate that phonological features of babbling are sensitive to nonimitative social stimulation. Contingent, but not noncontingent, maternal behavior facilitates more complex and mature vocal behavior. Changes in vocalizations persist after the manipulation. The data show that human infants use social feedback, facilitating immediate transitions in vocal behavior. Social interaction creates rapid shifts to developmentally more advanced sounds. These transitions mirror the normal development of speech, supporting the predictions of the avian social shaping model. These data provide strong support for a parallel in function between vocal precursors of songbirds and infants. Because imitation is usually considered the mechanism for vocal learning in both taxa, the findings introduce social shaping as a general process underlying the development of speech and song.