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Babies' language learning starts from the womb
Date:11/5/2009

EMBARGO HAS LIFTED DUE TO AN EMBARGO BREAK

From their very first days, newborns' cries already bear the mark of the language their parents speak, reveals a new study published online on November 5th in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. 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.

"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 Wrzburg 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 m
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Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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