Hugh Pickens writes "Science Daily reports findings from a new study that suggest that infants begin picking up elements of what will be their first language in the womb, long before their first babble or coo, and are able to memorize sounds from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language. Newborns prefer their mother's voice over other voices and perceive the emotional content of messages conveyed via intonation contours in maternal speech (a.k.a. "motherese"). "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 fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation," said Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany. Wermke's team recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 healthy newborns, 30 born into French-speaking families and 30 born into German-speaking families, when they were three to five days old. The recordings of 2,500 cries as mothers changed babies’ diapers, readied babies for feeding or otherwise interacted with the youngsters show an extremely early impact of native language with analysis revealing clear differences in the shape of the newborns' cry melodies, based on their mother tongue. "Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother's behavior in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding," says Wermke. "Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother's speech that newborns are able to imitate, this might explain why we found melody contour imitation at that early age.""
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