According to a new study, babies begin to pick up the nuances of their parents’ accents while still in the womb. A BBC New article reports:
The researchers studied the cries of 60 healthy babies born to families speaking French and German. The French newborns cried with a rising “accent” while the German babies’ cries had a falling inflection. Writing in the journal Current Biology, they say the babies are probably trying to form a bond with their mothers by imitating them.
The findings suggest that unborn babies are influenced by the sound of the first language that penetrates the womb. It was already known that foetuses could memorise sounds from the outside world in the last three months of pregnancy and were particularly sensitive to the contour of the melody in both music and human voices.
Earlier studies had shown that infants could match vowel sounds presented to them by adult speakers, but only from 12 weeks of age.
Kathleen Wermke from the University of Wurzburg, who led the research, said: “The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their foetal life.