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Medicine Biotech Science

Babies Begin Learning Language In the Womb 250

Hugh Pickens writes "Science Daily reports findings from a new study which 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."
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Babies Begin Learning Language In the Womb

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  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @02:37PM (#30015768)

    In hindsight, all scientific findings are "obvious" and "just common sense". What people forget to mention is that before the finding, there were about 200 competing, equally obvious and common sense based theories on what was happening.

  • Re:Genetics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phroggy ( 441 ) <.moc.yggorhp. .ta. .3todhsals.> on Saturday November 07, 2009 @02:40PM (#30015788) Homepage

    This study doesn't show it, but there are ways of testing for that. For example, I know someone who was born in China and adopted by American parents. Genetically she's 100% Chinese, but culturally 100% American. Now, let's say she marries a guy who's also genetically Chinese but speaks English, and they have kids. Their children will not be exposed to Chinese language prior to birth. I would expect that the babies, while genetically 100% Chinese, will cry like Americans (insert joke here).

  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @02:40PM (#30015792)

    I like the last paragraph: "Oh, and the journalistic generalizations were false as an expression of the authors' findings. Of course."

    Of course. Sigh.

  • Re:Genetics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Emerssso ( 865009 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:24PM (#30016148)
    Because vocal fold size determines a range of pitches available to the speaker, whereas phrase-level tone contours are language based and proportionate/relative. You can't genetically determine that any more than you can other aspects of a language's lexicon.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:25PM (#30016162)

    Blame the victim.

    When homosexual homeless men become bored they begin writing. It's babylonian. It does not even matter what they write about. When homosexual homeless men become bored they begin writing.

  • Re:So... when? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:26PM (#30016182)

    Yes, and the chosen term by rapists is "practitioners of surprise sex".

    The groups are pro-abortion and anti-abortion. Saying anything else confuses the issue.

  • by Emerssso ( 865009 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:28PM (#30016192)
    Assumed by some child language acquisition specialists, yes. Assumed by the ones who are scientific about their research, probably not.

    As I understand it, we have a fair amount of information about children responding to other phonetic and phonological aspects of the language(s) spoken around them, but there hasn't been any other research on prenatal language acquisition.
  • Re:So... when? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 07, 2009 @03:38PM (#30016264)

    The mother chose to become pregnant, assuming there was no rape. I can't invite you in my house then shoot you for trespassing.

    (And yes, I consider having sex consenting to become pregnant. You know damn well it can happen, if it would be a problem, keep your damn legs shut. And if you're male, and don't want to consent to becoming a father, then keep your damn pants zipped. This is a 100% effective method of birth control. [There are second-hand reports of it failing once about 2010 years ago, but I don't buy it...])

  • Re:So... when? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @04:26PM (#30016526) Homepage Journal

    There's a difference between being pro-abortion rights and being pro-abortion. I support the right of assholes to have freedom of speech, even if it is hate speech against blacks, jews, or gays. That doesn't make me a KKK Nazi Republican.

    This country is founded on the fundamental premise that we have freedom of religion, speech, etc., up to the point at which it directly harms others. The abortion debate is about the very complicated question of whether it harms another person or not. That's not an easy philosophical question to answer, and before anyone is qualified to answer that question, he or she must free himself or herself from the tendency to reply, "That's easy, my parents said..." or "That's easy, my preacher said..." or any other answer that comes easily. Such easy answers are almost always the wrong ones, as they are generally the end of thought on the subject rather than the beginning.

    For example, the easy (but wrong) answers for how to fight abortion are: 1. sue to make it illegal, and 2. try to convince people not to have them. Suing, however, is unlikely to make any real progress. Convincing people not to have abortions is slightly better; it may save a few individual children while you are actively doing this work, but it is an extremely inefficient way to improve things because it requires eternal vigilance by a fairly large number of people to be effective to any significant degree.

    By contrast, a much smarter answer is to contribute money to medical research to make it possible to sustain a fetus at progressively younger ages, eventually resulting in abortion being unnecessary, and eliminating any possible justification for abortion in the minds of even the staunchest abortion rights advocates. By answering in this way, your actions are the start of further thought and discussion instead of being dogmatic roadblocks to further thought. Further, instead of just reducing abortions, you're also doing something that helps humanity outside the context of abortion. Women who can't have kids could have kids, fetuses whose mothers die would not necessarily die, mothers who are diagnosed with cancer would no longer have to choose between chemotherapy and the lives of their children, women who are victims of rape or incest could give up their children for adoption and never have to endure childbirth for a child that was forced upon them, women who get pregnant when they are too young to safely bear a child would no longer be at serious risk, etc.

    Think bigger. Don't think of abortion as a problem to be solved. Think of it as a bad solution to a wide range of problems that could be solved in other ways, then try to find other ways.

  • by MinistryOfTruthiness ( 1396923 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @05:01PM (#30016730) Homepage Journal

    People have been playing music to babies in the womb for years. Many parents are encouraged to speak to their baby while in the womb so the baby learns the sounds of mommy's and daddy's voice. Not new, but it puts some more scientific evidence to what any parent with a kid under 20 (or more?) could have already told you.

    Babies get excited and kick when there's commotion outside too -- loud noises and such. They are listening, and with fairly developed infant brains, it's no surprise that they begin getting accustomed to common sounds and tones they hear going on around them.

    The only thing stopping this from being painfully obvious is the fact that people don't seem to believe that the baby exists in any real form until it's born. Academically, sure, but for 40 years liars and idiots have tried to tell us that it's not a baby until it's born. "Revelations" like this story will always surprise people who have bought into such intellectual dishonesty. There's no switch that says to the baby brain, "Okay, you're born now, start acting like a real brain." By birth, it's been working like that for many months, and doing what brains do: learning.

  • Re:So... when? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MinistryOfTruthiness ( 1396923 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @05:08PM (#30016784) Homepage Journal

    I don't understand the line-drawing. There is no line. Stop with the line drawing. You don't use magic numbers in your code, and you surely should use them to determine matters of life and death. If it came from humans and develops into a human, it's a human. Pigs don't develop into humans, nor do dogs, sheep, or monkeys. A human is a human at every stage of its development. No line.

    The honest question each society must answer is: At what point in a human's life is it okay to murder them for your convenience?

  • by coolsnowmen ( 695297 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @05:30PM (#30016912)

    There are plenty of ground breaking scientific findings that were not obvious. They fall under the category paradigm-shifting findings.

    --Evidence that suggested all things accelerate downward equally (neglecting air friction)
    --Evidence that suggested the world was spherical
    --Evidence that the earth was not at the center of...well anything
    --Evidence that suggested time was reletive
    --Evidence that things are made up of atoms and not Earth,Fire,Water,Air
    --DNA ...

  • Re:So... when? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MinistryOfTruthiness ( 1396923 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @06:07PM (#30017148) Homepage Journal

    At least you're honest, and that was my point. We need to stop with the intellectual dishonesty of "it's not human until X weeks." It is human, it came from human, will be human, it doesn't magically become something else in between. If your priorities are consequence-free sex over someone else's life, that's your choice, and, while I personally think you should be psychologically evaluated for prioritizing your recreation over someone else's life, I can at least respect that you understand and accept the decision you're making.

  • Re:So... when? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by repapetilto ( 1219852 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @06:47PM (#30017358)

    Use of those terms also confuse the issue... it sounds as if some people are going around advocating forced abortions or something.. The truly correct terminology would be Pro-law-against abortion and Anti-Law-against abortion. If someone could figure out a way to make that more catchy noone would have an excuse for using the terms derived from political spin.

  • Fish in a Barrel (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Nocuous ( 1567933 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @07:32PM (#30017650)
    And yes, I consider having sex consenting to become pregnant. You know damn well it can happen, if it would be a problem, keep your damn legs shut.

    And yes, I consider driving on the highway consenting to be maimed and crippled for life, or killed. You know damn well it can happen, if it would be a problem, keep your damn car off the highway.

    Too easy.
  • Re:Genetics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Saturday November 07, 2009 @08:48PM (#30018144)

    Legality of abortion has nothing to do with the fetus being able to feel pain or hear words. From ultrasounds I think everyone can clearly see many behaviors we associate with being alive or being human. The question is weather anyone is willing to take responsibility for life, health and future of both the mother or the baby. Do we keep a mentally disturbed teenager in chains until she gives birth so that she can not possibly jump of the bridge or otherwise harm herself or the baby? Will anyone make sure that a severally mentally disabled child doesn't spend decades being abused and neglected in an institution after his/her parents pass away? Is government more qualified than prospective parents to decide what constitutes a quality of life worth winning.

    Thus, although I believe that abortion (where there is otherwise a possibility of a life with happiness, dignity and without constant suffering) is a horrible thing, I also do not believe that a legal ban is any more humane. We need many solutions that will require others in the society to make sacrifices at least by paying taxes. For example, families with Down's child will often have their marriage and future of other children screwed if they don't have some part time place to drop off the child once in a while and get a break. Even with multitude of options, a few parents may still decide on abortion and they should be allowed to.

  • by LaughingCoder ( 914424 ) on Sunday November 08, 2009 @06:28PM (#30025788)
    Actually I said what I meant. Your post was questioning the consistency of being pro-capital punishment and anti-abortion, which is common among people who vote Republican. Likewise, I was questioning the consistency of being anti-capital punishment and pro-abortion, which is common among people who vote Democrat. Both of these combinations reflect people who are inconsistent in their "values".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 09, 2009 @02:22PM (#30035924)
    As someone who supports both capital punishment (though not the current implementation*) and abortion, I fail to see the inconsistency with someone who is against capital punishment but supports abortion.

    *The 8th Amendment clearly stipulates that no cruel and unusual punishments should be inflicted, and the current tortuous methods employed in the death penalty are cruel (by way of torture being cruel).

    While some sickos out there may, through the nature of the crimes they are convicted of, deserve to have their flesh ripped from their bones and their still-beating heart sliced to bits while still in the ribcage, and some might say such sickos are undeserving of the 8th amendment protections since they broke the law so why should the law protect them, our founding fathers recognized that government is largely stupid and put in the 8th amendment as a check against it interacting with us, not us interacting with each other or it.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.