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: Missing protein restored in patients with muscular dystrophy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

When it comes to numbers, culture counts

Jun 18, 2014

American children learn the meanings of number words gradually: First they understand "one," then they add "two, "three," and "four," in sequence. At that point, however, a dramatic shift in understanding ...

Why dogs are the new darlings of cognitive science

May 23, 2014

This will be his earliest memory. Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until it ...

Recommended for you

Student seeks to improve pneumonia vaccines

Aug 20, 2014

Almost a million Americans fall ill with pneumonia each year. Nearly half of these cases require hospitalization, and 5-7 percent are fatal. Current vaccines provide protection against some strains of the ...

Seabed solution for cold sores

Aug 20, 2014

The blue blood of abalone, a seabed delicacy could be used to combat common cold sores and related herpes virus following breakthrough research at the University of Sydney.

Better living through mitochondrial derived vesicles

Aug 19, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—As principal transformers of bacteria, organelles, synapses, and cells, vesicles might be said to be the stuff of life. One need look no further than the rapid rise to prominence of The ...

Zebrafish help to unravel Alzheimer's disease

Aug 19, 2014

New fundamental knowledge about the regulation of stem cells in the nerve tissue of zebrafish embryos results in surprising insights into neurodegenerative disease processes in the human brain. A new study by scientists at ...

User comments : 0