Scientist unveils secret of newborn's first words

Aug 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: Supercharging stem cells to create new therapies

Related Stories

Songbirds have a thing for patterns

Jun 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 ...

IBM peers into Numenta machine intelligence approach

Apr 09, 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 ...

Microsoft Research project can interpret, caption photos

May 29, 2015

If you're surfing the web and you come across a photo of the Mariners' Felix Hernandez on the pitchers' mound at Safeco Field, chances are you'll quickly interpret that you are looking at a picture of a baseball ...

Thinking alike changes the conversation

May 19, 2015

As social creatures, we tend to mimic each other's posture, laughter, and other behaviors, including how we speak. Now a new study shows that people with similar views tend to more closely mirror, or align, ...

Recommended for you

Researchers reveal a genetic blueprint for cartilage

Jul 02, 2015

Cartilage does a lot more than determine the shapes of people's ears and noses. It also enables people to breathe and to form healthy bones—two processes essential to life. In a study published in Cell Re ...

User comments : 0

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.