Dr Kathleen Wermke, head of Würzburg University Clinic’s Center for Pre-Speech Development and Developmental Disorders, has produced a body of research suggesting that babies’ cries are influenced by the language they have heard in utero, according to an article in the NY Times.
In 2009, according to the article, Wermke and her colleagues published a paper that demonstrated French and German newborns have different “cry melodies” reflecting the “falling intonation” of German language or the “rising intonation” of French. More recently, she has shown that babies whose mothers speak Mandarin produce more “complex” cries and Swedish infants can have more “sing-songy” cries.
During the third trimester of pregnancy, babies start to hear the “prosody” or rhythm and melody of their mother’s voices, which becomes a early “guide” to interpreting sounds and speech rhythm as they learn to speak.
“Imagine you’re thrown into a new language environment, which is what happens with the newborn,” said Judit Gervain, a senior research scientist at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, who was quoted in the article as saying. “There’s just so much going on: There are all the words, there’s all the meaning, all the grammar, all the sounds, all of it. You can’t do it all, it’s just too much. One way prosody helps is it gives them nice little chunks that are the right size.”
Currently, Wermke is working on research related to how hearing difficulties affect crying and cooing. She plans to compare a group of newborns identified with potential hearing difficulties against a control group, to ascertain how and when these cries and coos evolve.
Source: NY Times