New research suggests that the first cries made by your newborn baby may be influenced by patterns of your native tongue learned while in the womb.
Analyzing the cries of newborns
A study from the University of Wurzburg in Germany analyzed more than one thousand recorded infant cries from 30 German newborns and 30 French newborns.
They detected definite differences in the melody patterns of the cries.
French newborn infants had a rising melody to their cries, while German infants had a falling melody that was noticeable in their crying.
Recognizable pitch differences in newborn cries
Researchers concluded that even at a handful of days after their birth, infants were trying to duplicate the intonation patterns of their parent’s language. Something they clearly heard and learned from while in their mother’s womb.
“I think French and German are quite different with respect to their intonation patterns,” said Kathleen Wermke of the Center for Prespeech Development and Developmental Disorders at the University of Wurzburg.
She pointed out that people who speak French tend to have an intonation pattern that rises in pitch at the end of phrases or words. On the flip side, she said the German language has a definite falling pitch intonation pattern.
Mirroring their parent’s intonation patterns
As with any infant, the newborns could make a variety of different cries, but tended to have more that reflected the intonation patterns similar to their parents. Wermke and her associates believe this is because similar intonation patterns between newborns and mothers enhance bonding.
As Wermke explained, “The dramatic finding was that the French prefer to produce those having their pitch maximum at the end, while the Germans did not.”
“If we would have compared German and English newborns, we probably would have found not such a strong difference,” said Wermke, noting that the patterns of intonation are very similar between the two languages.
Newborns have surprising vocal controls
Previous researchers have noted that newborns are capable of telling differences between languages most likely because of rhythmic pattern changes.
“But what is really novel about this study is showing that they can actually produce these patterns in their cries,” said Toben Mintz, associate professor of psychology and linguistics at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. “Crying is not linguistic, yet they seem to be echoing the acoustic patterns that they’ve heard either in utero or very early on, very early exposure, right after birth.”
Mintz expressed surprise at the range of vocal control that newborns have. “That is quite astonishing that they can do this so early on, and it suggests some sort of innate mechanisms that form this link,” said Mintz.
“I think we should be more aware that crying is a language itself,” Wermke said. “And the baby is really trying to communicate with us by its first sounds already.”
Babies recognized fake words heard in the womb
In a separate study by Finnish researchers, fetuses were exposed to fake words after 29 weeks in the womb and were found to be able to distinguish those words after birth.
“Prenatal experiences have a remarkable influence on the brain’s auditory discrimination accuracy, which may support, for example, language acquisition during infancy,” wrote the study authors from the University of Helsinki.
—The Alternative Daily