By now, almost everyone knows that infants begin to learn language long before they utter their first words. But did you know that babies start learning language before they are even born? At least, that’s the conclusion that German researchers from the University of Wurzburg came to in a new study, published in the journal “Current Biology.”
For the study, the researchers recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 different newborn babies. Some of the babies were born to French-speaking parents; others were born to German-speaking parents. You might think that that wouldn’t matter, that all babies sound the same when they cry. However, the babies were only 3 to 5 days old, and they were already crying in “accents” that mimicked the intonations of the adult’s language. So, the French babies’ cries had a rising inflection, and the German babies’ cries had a falling inflection.
According to the researchers, the babies were most likely imitating the speech they had heard while in the womb. In this article from the BBC, researcher Kathleen Wermke said that “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 foetal life. Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants’ crying for seeding language development.”
Wermke also theorized that the babies were trying to bond more closely with their mothers by mimicking them in the only way possible-through the intonation of their cries.