Newborns cry with an 'accent'

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Washington, Nov 6 (ANI): Newborns start learning language in the womb - and their cries reflect the language their parents speak, say researchers.

"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 Wurzburg in Germany.

"Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants' crying for seeding language development," she added.

Previous studied have showed that 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.

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").

During the study, research team recorded and analysed 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.

It revealed clear differences in the shape of the newborns' cry melodies, based on their mother tongue.

The study showed that 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.

"Imitation of melody contour, in contrast, is merely predicated upon well-coordinated respiratory-laryngeal mechanisms and is not constrained by articulatory immaturity," said the researchers.

"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," they added.

The study appears in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication. (ANI)

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