Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Babies' Language Learning Starts From The Womb

Date:
November 5, 2009
Source:
Cell Press
Summary:
From their very first days, newborns' cries already bear the mark of the language their parents speak, reveals a new study. The findings suggest that infants begin picking up elements of what will be their first language in the womb, and certainly long before their first babble or coo.

Artist's rendering of a human fetus growing inside the womb.
Credit: iStockphoto/Max Delson Martins Santos

From their very first days, newborns' cries already bear the mark of the language their parents speak, reveals a new study published online in Current Biology. The findings suggest that infants begin picking up elements of what will be their first language in the womb, and certainly long before their first babble or coo.

Related Articles


"The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation," said Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany. "Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants' crying for seeding language development."

Human fetuses are able to memorize sounds from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language, earlier studies showed. Newborns prefer their mother's voice over other voices and perceive the emotional content of messages conveyed via intonation contours in maternal speech (a.k.a. "motherese"). Their perceptual preference for the surrounding language and their ability to distinguish between different languages and pitch changes are based primarily on melody.

Although prenatal exposure to native language was known to influence newborns' perception, scientists had thought that the surrounding language affected sound production much later, the researchers said. It now appears that isn't so.

Wermke's team recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 healthy newborns, 30 born into French-speaking families and 30 born into German-speaking families, when they were three to five days old. That analysis revealed clear differences in the shape of the newborns' cry melodies, based on their mother tongue.

Specifically, French newborns tend to cry with a rising melody contour, whereas German newborns seem to prefer a falling melody contour in their crying. Those patterns are consistent with characteristic differences between the two languages, Wermke said.

The new data show an extremely early impact of native language, the researchers say. Earlier studies of vocal imitation had shown that infants can match vowel sounds presented to them by adult speakers, but only from 12 weeks on. That skill depends on vocal control that just isn't physically possible much earlier, the researchers explain.

"Imitation of melody contour, in contrast, is merely predicated upon well-coordinated respiratory-laryngeal mechanisms and is not constrained by articulatory immaturity," they write. "Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother's behavior in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding. Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother's speech that newborns are able to imitate, this might explain why we found melody contour imitation at that early age."

The researchers include Birgit Mampe, University of Wurzburg, Wurzburg, Germany; Angela D. Friederici, Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany; Anne Christophe, Ecole Normale Superieure/CNRS, Paris, France; and Kathleen Wermke, University of Wurzburg, Wurzburg, Germany.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Cell Press. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Mampe et al. Newborns' Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language. Current Biology, November 5, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.064

Cite This Page:

Cell Press. "Babies' Language Learning Starts From The Womb." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091105092607.htm>.
Cell Press. (2009, November 5). Babies' Language Learning Starts From The Womb. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 31, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091105092607.htm
Cell Press. "Babies' Language Learning Starts From The Womb." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091105092607.htm (accessed January 31, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

NFL Concussions Down; Still on Parents' Minds

AP (Jan. 30, 2015) — The NFL announced this week that the number of game concussions dropped by a quarter over last season. Still, the dangers of the sport still weigh on players, and parents&apos; minds. (Jan. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Study Shows Newborn Chicks Count From Left to Right Just Like Humans

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) — Researchers for the first time identified human&apos;s innate preference for associating low and high numbers with the left and right respectively in another species. Jen Markham (@jenmarkham) explains. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Best Mood Elevating, Feel Good Shakes & Smoothies

Buzz60 (Jan. 30, 2015) — You can elevate your mood by having a meal in a glass. Fitness and nutrition expert John Basedow (@JohnBasedow) offers the best &apos;feel good&apos; smoothies and shakes chock full of depression-relieving ingredients...including apples, berries, lemons, cucumbers, papaya, kiwi, spinach, kale, whey protein, matcha, ginger, turmeric and cinnamon. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Poll Says Firstborn Is Responsible, Youngest Is Funnier

Newsy (Jan. 30, 2015) — According to a poll out of the U.K., eldest siblings feel more responsible and successful than their younger siblings. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins