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Thread: A mother's native language affects how her newborn infant cries

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    I've seen worse. SuperModerator ColoradoGuy's Avatar
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    A mother's native language affects how her newborn infant cries

    I found this study to be absolutely fascinating. The link is to the abstract -- the complete article is behind a paywall but I can get it for anybody who's interested in reading the whole study in detail. Its title is "Fundamental frequency variation in crying of Mandarin and German neonates." I have always assumed, like most people I suspect, that babies cry the same the world over. When they're uncomfortable or hungry they let us know by crying. It turns out this may not be the case. If so, then language development is pushed to the very first days of life -- even before that, perhaps.


    Some languages are tonal. This means the pitch of the speaker's voice affects the meaning of the words; the same sound can mean something entirely different depending upon the pitch. Mandarin Chinese, spoken by over a billion people, is such a language. There are four pitches that must be mastered to speak Mandarin. I have a friend who spent three years in China and really struggled with this. I don't recall the details, but as I recall she told me, as one example, the word for "fish" means something entirely different when uttered in a different pitch. There is a language spoken in Cameroon that is even more complicated, sound-wise. This language has eight different pitches that affect word meaning, and there are further modulations in pitch that complicate things even more.


    This study was a collaboration between investigators in China and Germany. German is not a tonal language, of course. They recorded the vocalizations of 102 newborn infants, examining in particular pitch, fluctuation, and range. The results, in the words of the lead author, were clear:
    The crying of neonates whose mothers speak a tonal language is characterized by a significantly higher melodic variation as compared to - for example - German neonates.
    It's even more interesting when you consider these are newborns. They've only been out of the womb a couple of days. So the implication is they heard their mothers speaking while still in utero and acquired patterns of vocalization they begin to use immediately after they were born. That's quite amazing, I think. It has implications even for those mothers who don't speak tonal languages: that is, your baby can hear what you're saying, sense your tone. So maybe if you are angry and yell a lot, or people near you yell a lot, your infant may actually be impacted by that. Something to think about.
    Last edited by ColoradoGuy; 10-26-2016 at 06:59 PM.
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