In the first days of their lives, French infants already cry in a different way to German babies. This was the result of a study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, the Centre for Pre-language Development and Developmental Disorders (ZVES) at the University Clinic Würzburg, and the Laboratory of Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.
The cry melody of french (left) and german (right) babies differs considerably with respect to the accentuation. Image: MPI für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften
In this study, the scientists compared recordings of 30 French and 30 German infants aged between two and five days old. While the French newborns more frequently produced rising crying tones, German babies cried with falling intonation. The reason for this is presumably the differing intonation patterns in the two languages, which are already perceived in the uterus and are later reproduced. (Current Biology, November 5th, 2009)
In the last trimester of the pregnancy, human fetuses become active listeners. "The sense of hearing is the first sensory system that develops", says Angela Friederici, one of the Directors at the Max Planck Institute. "The mother’s voice, in particular, is sensed early on." However, the fetus’ hearing in the uterus is restricted due to the amniotic fluid. "What gets through are primarily the melodies and intonation of the respective language". In previous work, Professor Friederici’s research team found evidence that the intonation patterns of the respective mother tongue are already ingrained in the brains of four-month-old babies.
Original work:Birgit Mampe, Angela D. Friederici, Anne Christophe, Kathleen Wermke
Barbara Abrell | Max Planck Society
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