New York Times
November 17, 2009, 2:26 pm
They are listening in there — far more closely than previously thought.
How early does language — a particular language — begin?
Researchers have studied the cries of 60 newborns, ages 3 to 5 days old, born to families who speak French and German. As they reported in this month’s issue of the journal Current Biology, the French infants cried with a rising tone, and the German infants cried with a falling one.
What does this mean? That they are listening in there — far more closely than previously thought. Kathleen Wemke, the lead researcher from the University of Wurzberg told the BBC, “The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life.”
It also means it’s just a matter of time before there are gadgets intended to teach French, German and so on, to fetuses. Already, there is a new app that turns your iPhone into “a cry translator.” For $30, it deciphers what its creator call the “five cries universal to all babies” — hungry, sleepy, stressed, annoyed and bored.
Those who peddle it say it is 96 percent accurate, which is more or less what the makers of a dog collar said a few years ago about its ability to translate barks into 178 phrases like “Why don’t you talk to me?” and “I love to be at your side.” When a vet who specializes in canine communication tested the device, however, she was less than impressed.
The message here? It sure won’t hurt to talk to your baby in the womb. You will probably understand her cries better than any device shortly within days of knowing her. And if your dog barks — feed him, pet him or walk him.