The sound of a mother’s voice has such an influence on her unborn child that even tiny babies cry with an accent, according to new research.
Babies are likely to imitate their mother’s voice, to increase bonding
A study of 60 newborns from France and Germany found that babies appear to pick up the nuances of language even while they are in the womb, and their very first wails can be distinguished according to their mother tongue.
French newborns tend to cry with a rising melody contour, while German babies prefer a falling melody shape – patterns which scientists say fit with characteristic differences between the two languages.
Kathleen Wermke of the University of Wuerzburg in Germany, who conducted the study with French and American colleagues, says it shows newborns “are capable of producing different cry melodies”.
Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother’s behaviour in order to attract her and….foster bonding.
Dr Kathleen Wermke, study leader
The research shows there is an “extremely early” impact from native language, and confirms that babies’ cries are their first proper attempts to communicate specifically with their mothers, she explained.
“We are the first ones to have provided evidence that language begins with the very first cry melodies.
“They prefer exactly the same melody patterns that are typical of their respective mother tongues.
“Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother’s behaviour in order to attract her and….foster bonding.”
The team’s analysis, published in journal Current Biology, reveals clear differences in the shape of the newborns’ cry melodies, based on their mother tongue.
Previous studies have shown that human foetuses can memorise sounds from the external world by the last three months of pregnancy.
However, scientists had always thought that language traits did not begin to have an influence until much later.