Newborns cry in their native language


Scientists from the University of Würzburg, as well as researchers from the Max-Planck-Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris developed a study which discovered that German and French newborn babies cry in their native language. The researchers focused on German and French languages because of the differences in the intonation of each language. In French, the stress lies towards the end but in German it’s usually at the beginning. This difference in intonation would also produce a difference in melody and rhythm. As a result, French newborns produced cries with a rising melody contour, while the German newborns cried with falling contours. This means that the cry melody of German infants was most intense at the start, meanwhile the French infants’ cry intensifies towards the end. The results gathered from the study demonstrate how newborns were able to  reproduce exactly the same intonation patterns that are typical of their respective mother tongues. More in depth research will be conducted on this and whether the cry melody can be a potential risk indicator for later language development.

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Oral language, a good predictor of writing difficulties

According to a new study by Professor Phaedra Royle and Postdoctoral fellow Alexandra Marquis of the University of Montreal’s School of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology, there is a relationship between oral and written language skills. 71 children, ages six to nine, participated in the study which focused on the children’s ability to orally conjugate verbs in the past tense or to use auxiliaries and other grammatical elements in writing. 38 children only spoke French, while 33 were multilingual, with French being their second or third language. The children were initially evaluated in the first grade and later retested by the end of second grade. The results obtained from the study demonstrated that that first grade oral skills were predictive of second grade writing skills. Morphological awareness in a spoken language can predict possible spelling and grammar difficulties in a written language. According to Professor Royle, the more children are able to use verb tense in spoken language, the more easily they can learn written language. The data also revealed a link between oral and written morphosyntactic skills for both groups of children. This study also served to contradict the popular belief that bilingualism, at an early age, can be detrimental to oral and written language learning.

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The Disfluent Speech of Bilingual Spanish-English Children


The research article, The Disfluent Speech of Bilingual Spanish-English Children: Considerations for Differential Diagnosis of Stuttering, by Courtney T. Byrd, Lisa M. Bedore, and Daniel Ramos was published earlier this month. Since the Bilingualism Research Lab, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is also conducting research on the study of bilingualism we decided to contact one of the authors for more information. Courtney T. Byrd kindly agreed to give a brief summary of their article, stating that, “Researchers recently suggested bilingualism is a risk factor for stuttering. Our study suggests that the assumption that there is an increased risk is confounded by the critical overlap that exists in the disfluencies that we categorize as mazes and those we categorize as stuttering like disfluencies. Thus, we propose the risk is related to false positive diagnosis of stuttering as opposed to true positive risk of development. In this manuscript we also offer specific suggestions to enhance differential diagnosis of stuttering in Spanish-English bilinguals and monolingual English speakers.”

More information on their article:

Gene Foxp2 Facilitates Learning


Researchers from MIT and several European universities have conducted studies on a type of gene, Foxp2, that may help humans with a key component of learning language. The researchers also believe that Foxp2 is one of several genes that has contributed to the abilities to generate and comprehend language, which only humans possess. The humanized gene was tested out on mice and demonstrated to provide improvements in their behavior as well as memory. The protein produced by the gene produces changes taking place in the brain, allowing it to adapt to speech and language acquisition. More research is necessary and is  being conducted in order to see how Foxp2 interacts with other genes to produce its effects of learning and language.

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Different Accents in One State


Several Standford researchers have decided to conduct a study, “Voices of California”, in Central California in order to fully understand how the community views itself, its region, the rest of the state and how that’s reflected in the way they speak. Penny Eckert, a professor of linguistics and anthropology at Standford University, focused the project primarily on California because of its rich diversity. Several participants were asked basic question about their life, memories and thoughts of Sacramento as well as the pronunciation for several words. The pronunciation would later be analyzed for vowel sound and word choice. Researchers have not yet analyzed all the data but one of the findings has demonstrated that in certain cities people’s pronunciation and word choice were more influenced by the South than those on California’s coast.

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Bilingual Babies: Improved Learning and Memory

Associate Professor Leher Singh, at the National University of Singapore conducted a study which looked at the effects of bilingualism in six-month-old infants. The study concluded that babies who are exposed to two languages have a better memory and are able to process information faster than monolingual infants. Infants have the capability to take on the challenges of bilingual acquisition as compared to adults. This long term study began in 2009 and was recently published in the journal Child Development in July of this year.

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Benefits of Code-Switching


In some regions code-switching has sometimes been discouraged among children. However, a study conducted by Yow Wei Quin, assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), demonstrates how this phenomenon is not at all bad. Children who spoke English and Mandarin were studied. The children’s speech competencies were measured in both languages. One of the findings demonstrated how the children who frequently code-switched between English and Mandarin were found to have a better command of the second language. They were able to express themselves better in Mandarin and possessed higher vocabulary. Assistant Professor Yow also expects to expand her research of switching between other mother tongue languages and measuring language competencies through the analysis of syntax. The Bilingualism Research Lab, at the University of Illinois at Chicago is one of the few labs conducting more research on this code-switching phenomenon. Findings similar to these should help parents encourage their children to code-switch between two languages.

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