Scientist unveils secret of newborn's first words

August 26, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new study could explain why "daddy" and "mommy" are often a baby's first words – the human brain may be hard-wired to recognize certain repetition patterns.

Using the latest optical brain imaging techniques, University of British Columbia post-doctoral fellow Judit Gervain and a team of researchers from Italy and Chile documented brain activities of 22 newborns (2-3 days old) when exposed to recordings of made-up words.

The researchers mixed words that end in repeating syllables – such as "mubaba" and "penana" – with words without repetition – such as "mubage" and "penaku." They found increased brain activities in the temporal and left frontal areas of the newborns' brain whenever the repetitious words were played. Words with non-adjacent repetitions ("bamuba" or "napena") elicited no distinctive responses from the brain.

The study is published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences online Early Edition.

"It's probably no coincidence that many languages around the world have repetitious syllables in their 'child words' – baby and daddy in English, papa in Italian and tata (grandpa) in Hungarian, for example," says Gervain from UBC Dept. of Psychology's Infant Studies Centre.

Scientists have studied how older children and adults acquire grammatical structures. This is one of the first studies on a newborn infant's innate ability to decipher structural patterns in language.

"The language centre of most right-handed adults is located on the left side of the brain," says Gervain. "This is consistent with our finding with new born babies and supports our belief humans are born with abilities that allow us to perceive and learn our mother tongue systematically and efficiently."

"The brain areas that are responsible for language in an adult do not 'learn' how to process language during development, but rather, they are specialized – at least in part – to process language from the start."

Source: University of British Columbia

Explore further: Whistled Turkish challenges notions about language and the brain

Related Stories

Grammar: Eventually the brain opts for the easy route

August 13, 2015

Languages are constantly evolving—and grammar is no exception. The way in which the brain processes language triggers adjustments. If the brain has to exert itself too much to cope with difficult case constructions, it ...

Songbirds have a thing for patterns

June 25, 2015

You might think that young children would first learn to recognize sounds and then learn how those categories of sounds fit together into words. But that isn't how it works. Rather, kids learn sounds and words at the same ...

IBM peers into Numenta machine intelligence approach

April 9, 2015

Are we nowhere near the limits to which machines can make sense out of raw data? Some scientists would say that today's programmed computers cannot match a computer approach using biological learning principles for next ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.