A study in the journal Current Biology finds that babies, because they listen in the womb, cry in distinctive ways that reflect the language spoken by their parents. Karen Hopkin reports, with commentary by Christopher Hopkin
[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]
How can you tell the difference between a French baby and a German baby? No, it’s not that one is wearing a saucy little beret while the other is tucked into tiny pair of lederhosen. Well, maybe that’s part of it. But a new study in the journal Current Biology shows that the babies actually sound different. Because the melody of an infant’s cry matches its mother tongue.
We all know that babies start eavesdropping while they’re still in the womb. So when they come out, they know their mother’s voice. When they’re older, they start to imitate the sounds they hear. Eventually they babble, and then start to speak, and then you never hear the end of it. But long before that first burble or coo, babies are learning the elements of language.
A team of scientists recorded the cries of 60 newborns: 30 born into French-speaking families and 30 that heard German. And they found that French infants wail on a rising note [baby cry sound] while the Germans favor a falling melody [baby cry sound]. Those patterns match the rhythms of their native languages. So next time you hear a baby cry, listen closely. He could be telling you where he’s from.