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Newborn Words

September 22, 2008

Babies come equipped with built-in speech detectors.


Why baby talk is catchy…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Ever wonder why a baby’s first words are usually dada" or "mama"? Well, until now, no one really knew. So developmental psychologist Judit Gervain, now of the University of British Columbia, and her colleagues, played recordings of repetitive nonsense words to newborns at hospitals in Italy and Canada.

JUDIT GERVAIN (University of British Columbia):
For example "mubaba".

And also non-repetitive words…

like "mubagay".

At the same time, they measured the infants’ brain activity.

JUDIT GERVAIN (University of British Columbia):
What we found was increased activation, in particular the language areas of the left hemisphere for the repeating sounds.

She says babies’ brains may be pre-wired at birth to recognize certain patterns of speech such as repetition. This may give them a head start on language learning in the coming years. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.