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Newborn Language

January 21, 2013

Newborn babies have a preference for their mother’s language over foreign languages.



Phonics in utero. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Babies learn a lot about their mother’s native language – even before they’re born. This according to developmental psychologist Christine Moon of Pacific Lutheran University. Moon notes that newborns were already known to respond differently to conversations in their mother’s native tongue, as opposed to a foreign language. She and her colleagues showed that the discrimination extends to isolated vowel sounds – in this case, English vowels versus Swedish vowels.

CHRISTINE MOON (Pacific Lutheran University):

And we, until now, believed that that information was not readily available to them in the womb – that it was much more likely that they could be learning about the melody, and the rhythm in the flow of speech.

The findings offer new insight into normal language development. Moon says it’s also worth finding out if premature babies, who hear sounds through the air earlier in their development, acquire language differently than full-term babies. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.