Babies cry in their first language: Tränen, tears, o lágrimas?

In the newest edition of the journal Current Biology an interesting article was published about the language in which babies cry.

Apparently infants have already begun acquiring phonology at such an early stage that long before they can speak, they already cry in their native language.  In fact, the authors suggest that fetuses can “memorize auditory stimuli from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language.”  It is not surprising then that their first sounds be somewhat language-specific.  French infants, for example, were found to prefer rising intonations in their cries and German infants preferred falling tones.  Further, the suggested effect is that “adult-like processing of pitch intervals allows newborns to appreciate musical melodies and emotional and linguistic prosody.”

“Newborns’ cry melody is shaped by their native language”. Birgit Mampe, Angela D. Friederici, Anne Christophe, Kathleen Wermke. Current Biology 2009, Nov 5, doi 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.064

Other publications have begun taking notice as well.  The University of Würzburg has a discussion of the implications in German and English. And Uruguay’s LR21 has posted an article in Spanish.

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