Babies Cry in Accents Heard in the Womb
November 7, 2009
(ChattahBox)—A new study suggests that the cries of newborn infants are quite similar to the speech patterns of their parents, heard while in the womb and very early after they are born. This study reveals a surprising degree of linguistic control mastered by newborns in their early cries, which illustrates that a baby’s cry is indeed a remarkable first attempt at language and communication.
The study analyzed over a thousand recorded cries from 30 French newborns and 30 German newborns, finding a distinct difference in their linguistic patterns. The cries of French infants tended to have a rising melody, just like the French language itself, while the German cries were found to have a falling melody, similar to the German language which falls at the end of a phrase.
Lead researcher Kathleen Wermke of the Center for Prespeech Development and Developmental Disorders at the University of Wurzburg in Germany, believes that infants are born with an innate sense to mimic the sounds of their parents.
The cries of German and French infants were that much easier to distinguish, because of the stark differences in the language patterns.
“If we would have compared German and English newborns, we probably would have found not such a strong difference,” says Wermke, because their intonation patterns are more similar to each other.
“I think we should be more aware that crying is a language itself,” she says, “and the baby is really trying to communicate with us by its first sounds already.”
It would be interesting to study the cries of American infants, to determine if strong regional accents are also evident in a newborn’s cry, as they attempt to bond and communicate with their parents.