We Learn Our Language in the Womb

No wonder learning a new language can be more difficult the older you get.  We were learning our individual languages before we were even born!  That's what researchers revealed in a release today by Current Biology.

It seems that fetuses not only warm to the sound of mother's voice as they gestate, they also are being programmed in the direct patterns inherent in certain languages.  By the time we are born, our dialect is determined.

Wermke's team recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 healthy newborns, 30 born into French-speaking families and 30 born into German-speaking families, when they were three to five days old. That analysis revealed clear differences in the shape of the newborns' cry melodies, based on their mother tongue.

Specifically, French newborns tend to cry with a rising melody contour, whereas German newborns seem to prefer a falling melody contour in their crying. Those patterns are consistent with characteristic differences between the two languages, Wermke said.

ScienceDaily has a brief story about this new knowledge: Link


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Chago- you're right, it's extremely preliminary, but we all know how lay people tend to exaggerate the tentative conclusions of even the most qualified of studies. More likely this is just more evidence for the way we're wired as human beings to learn language. Even as embryos, our half developed brains are picking up on linguistic cues.

I doubt this proves language is completely learned before birth.
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I don't know that you can say one's dialect is determined at birth. A friend of mine was born in Japan to Japanese parents and came to the U.S. at four years of age (becoming a citizen just a couple of years ago). It was hard for me to believe she was fluent in Japanese, until I heard her speak it over the phone with her father, because her English is completely unaccented.

This is just one story, but I remember learning about the apprehension of language in my linguistics classes, and I just think the way you've boiled it down here is a little too simplistic. For instance, the real test of whether a dialect is "fixed" by birth would be to take an infant born in another country (China, for instance) with entirely different syntax from the one in which they were raised and see how easily they learned their mother tongue at the high school level compared to their (U.S. born) peers.
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This is an amazing discovery. This only proves that they can hear us even while they are still in their mother's womb. Then it is really true that we can read them good books and let them listen to good music even before they are born. Thank you for this post.
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