In today’s multicultural society, one may not differentiate between a German, a French or an American if the language is flawlessly spoken, but studies show that no matter if adults grasp an accent or not, infants are born with their parents’ accent and can also differentiate a native speaker from a foreign pronunciation. The babies’ learning session starts while they are still in the womb and the distinctive ways in which they cry offers clues about their parents’ roots. However, children older than one year start losing their ability to make the distinction between accents.
A study published in the journal Current Biology found out that babies’ cry tell a lot about the infants’ mother tongue. A team led by Kathleen Wermke at the Center for Prespeech Development and Developmental Disorders at Würzburg University in Germany carried out a study with regard to the type of cry of 30 French and 30 German newborns. While Wermke cautioned that accents don’t have to do with the melody, but with the way in which words are pronounced, the study shed some light on the babies’ intonation; French infants cried on a rising note, while German newborns prefered a falling melody. As a result, the team proved that the newborns’ cries follow the same intonation of the languages they had heard in the womb and that the action of crying is hardly just a string of sounds, but an attempt to speak, which also means that they are born with parents’ accent.
Infants Develop Language Preferences
A team from Harvard University led by Katherine Kinzler found out that babies aged five to six months develop language preferences before they can speak. Kinzler tested 24 infants from households that spoke only English in order to show which language toddlers prefer.
She showed the babies videos of two women, one speaking in English and the other one in Spanish, followed after images with the women standing side by side, but who were no longer speaking. The infants reacted to the English speakers by gazing at them for a longer period, a standard test used extensively by child psychologists. Moreover, Kinzler also found out that babies older than ten months tend to accept toys from women who spoke their native language and that infants make the difference between accents and, more often than not, prefer those with a native accent just like their parents’. The findings prove that infants are born with a responsiveness to the accent of the ones who gave them life.
Pattern of Speaking Forms Before the Production of Speech
Patricial Kuhl, director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Learning at the University of Washington discovered that the babies’ sob is not a string of random sounds, but an attempt to pronounce the language heard from people around them. While she was working with American, Japanese, Swedish and Russian children with ages between six to eight months, the infants reacted not only to their own language, but to others’, as well.
Kuhl stated that, for example, babies in Tokyo perceive the difference between “l” and “r” as easily as the ones in Seattle, but by the time they reach the age of one, they tune out unfamiliar sounds. A study which tested toddlers’ attention to sounds proved that, at six months, babies of all nationalities react to sounds which don’t come from their language, but at a year, the sounds become the same and infants no longer react to languages other than their native one. According to Kuhl, the “home sound” is the accent and words heard inside the babies’ homes and a new language or accent creates “interference.”
However, in a bilingual homes, the baby’s brain reacts to both languages and differentiates them thanks to the pitch, tone and pronunciation of each parent.
Therefore, studies prove that babies are born with parents’ accent and that the sounds they make are not random, but are defined by experts as attempts to imitate the words people utter around them even before they are born.
By Gabriela Motroc