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Newborn Accents

November 23, 2009

The sound of a newborn baby’s cry depends on the language its parents spoke while it was in the womb.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
Newborns with accents…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Sfx: baby cry)

A baby’s cry is universally recognizable. But now there’s evidence that a newborn’s cries may be shaped by the language it hears while still in the womb. Angela Friederici is a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany. She says that German speakers stress the first syllable of every word, while French speakers stress the second syllable.

ANGELA FRIEDERICI (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences):

Like in German you say mama, papa, and in French you say, mamó, papá.

HIRSHON:
She and her colleagues were surprised to discover that newborn German babies also stress the first part of their cry.

(Sfx: German baby cry)

Whereas French babies stress the second part.

(Sfx: French baby cry)

The researchers think such early language specificity may be essential for speech development. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.