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Crying from Chinese babies is more melodic than that from German ones
A scientific study found that German babies cry differently than those that come from China or Cameroon, for example. The researchers explain the differences with the melody of the mother tongue.
Baby crying bears traces of the mother tongue
The very first crying of newborns shows traces of the mother tongue. This can be seen particularly clearly in languages in which pitch or pitch progression determine the meaning of words, reports the Julius Maximillians University of Würzburg in a current press release. A team of researchers at the university found this out together with colleagues from other countries.
They have published the results of their studies in the current issues of the specialist magazines "Speech, Language and Hearing" and "Journal of Voice".
Professor Kathleen Wermke, director of the Center for Pre-Linguistic Development and Developmental Disorders at the University Hospital Würzburg (polyclinic for orthodontics) and first author of the two studies, said: "The crying of newborns whose mothers speak a tonal language shows a significantly greater melodic variation, compared for example with German newborns. "
In tonal languages, words have different meanings
To arrive at their results, the scientists examined 55 newborns from Beijing and 21 from the Nso people in Cameroon and recorded their vocalizations in the first few days of life. The languages spoken there are Mandarin (in China) and Lamnso (in Cameroon) are so-called tonal languages, in which the pitches in which syllables or words are pronounced also contribute to the meaning.
The apparently same sound can mean completely different things - depending on whether it is pronounced in a high or low pitch or with a special tone. If you want to speak Lamnso perfectly, you have to master eight characteristic tones. There are four such tones in Mandarin.
Spontaneous vocalizations recorded by babies
The babies were not made to cry in the study. "We only recorded spontaneous vocalizations, usually whenever a baby made itself felt because he was hungry," said Wermke.
It was shown that not only was the "overall variation in pitch" within the children of the Nso in Cameroon significantly greater, that is, the distance between the lowest and highest notes, but also the brief up and down of sounds during a vocalization was more intense compared to the newborns of German-speaking mothers. "Her crying was more like a chant," said Wermke. The results for the newborns from Beijing looked similar, but somewhat less pronounced.
Language development begins right after birth
According to the researchers, this finding speaks for a theory that they had already confirmed when comparing German and French newborns: “The acquisition of building blocks for the later language begins right after birth; not only when babies start to babble or produce their first words, ”said the scientist.
Experts therefore repeatedly point out that parents do no good for their offspring when they speak to him in expressions such as "Dutzi Dutzi" or "Make Bubu". Babies dumb down through baby talk.
Universality across cultural borders
According to the Würzburg scientists, newborns - after having had sufficient opportunity during the last third of pregnancy to get to know their "mother tongue" in the mother's womb - show characteristic melodic patterns in their crying, which are based on the environment - just like the mother tongue - are influenced. Even before they coo the first sounds or try their hand at speech-like "syllable babbling".
At the same time, the research results speak for a high degree of universality in the utterances of babies across cultural borders. "In this case, we examined newborns from very different cultures," says Kathleen Wermke. On the one hand, newborns from Beijing, who grew up surrounded by all the influences of modern civilization - radio, television, smartphone. And on the other hand, the children of the Nso, who were born in a rural environment where all the technical achievements of modernity are lacking.
“The fact that, despite these differences in cultures, there are similar effects in the two tonal language groups compared to the non-tonal German group, suggests that our interpretation of the data points in the right direction,” said the scientist.
Newborns can learn any language in the world
As stated in the university's announcement, the results - if carefully formulated - could even suggest that not only external but also genetic factors are involved. "Of course, it is undisputed that newborns are able to learn every spoken language in the world, regardless of how complex it is," said Wermke.
According to the scientists, their results can help to better understand key factors influencing the earliest phases of language development than has been the case to date. At the same time, this improves the possibility of identifying leading indicators that can provide information about possible developmental disorders in this area at a very early stage. However, there are still many other questions that need to be clarified prior to clinical application. (ad)