Newborns cry in melody of native language

By Sanjit Datta • Published: March 3rd, 2010
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You hear them at the worst possible times. A crowded theater. A landing airplane. Through the walls of an apartment building. Babies are everywhere, and they always seem to be crying.

Few people could notice any melody in a baby’s wails. In fact, since crying babies seem to annoy everyone but their parents, few people would even try to hear a melody.

But that’s exactly what a group of European scientists did, and their discovery challenges how we look at the development of language in infants.

The researchers began by recording the cries of sixty newborns… thirty from France and thirty from Germany. They found that the melody of each baby’s cry was similar to the natural melodies in the baby’s native language.

French babies ended their cries with a lilt similar to the characteristic ending of a French sentence. In contrast, German babies began their cries very intensely and ended very abruptly, like typical German emphasis.

The accents were found within just days of the baby’s birth, suggesting that the babies have already learned these language cues very early. Scientists already knew that babies could hear voices in the late stages of pregnancy, but this is the first data suggesting that babies can actually mimic these voices very soon after birth.

Experts think that babies do this in order to attract attention and foster bonding. So the next time your baby cries in the middle of the night, remember this: She’s just doing her best impression of you. And that should be music to any parent’s ears!