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Newborn Babies Communicate In Their Native Language

November 7, 2009


A few days after birth, babies cry with melodic language patterns of their parent’s native tongue. These patterns are learned from sound heard while in the womb. Fluent speakers use melodic patterns and pitch shifts to imbue words and phrases with emotional meaning. Changes in pitch and rhythm, for example, can indicate anger. During the last few months of fetal life, babies can hear what their mothers or other nearby adults are saying, providing exposure to melodies peculiar to a specific language. Newborns then re-create those familiar patterns.

Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany says “Our data support the idea that human infants’ crying is important for seeding language development. Melody lies at the roots of both the development of spoken language and music.”

Newborns’ facility for imitating the underlying makeup of adult speech gets incorporated into babbling later in infancy, Wermke proposes. Earlier research has shown that, from age 3 months on, infants can reproduce vowel sounds demonstrated by adults.

Source: Current Biology November 5, 2009

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