Baby lab reveals surprisingly early gift of gab

December 9, 2011

From the moment they're born, babies are highly attuned to communicate and motivated to interact. And they're great listeners.

New research from the University of Notre Dame shows that during the first year of life, when spend so much time listening to language, they're actually tracking word patterns that will support their process of word- learning that occurs between the ages of about 18 months and two years.

"Babies are constantly looking for language clues in context and ," says Jill Lany, assistant professor of and director of Notre Dame's baby lab, where she conducts studies on how babies acquire language.

"My research suggests that there are some surprising clues in the sound stream that may help babies learn the meanings of words. They can distinguish different kinds of words like nouns and verbs by information in that sound stream."

Lany's studies shows that babies as young as twelve months can identify "adjacent relationships" in which a phrase or sound like "it's a" occurs immediately before an object.

"If I were to say to you, 'Oh look, it's a dax,' you might not know what a 'dax' is but the cue 'it's a' let's a baby know that what follows is an object," Lany says.

Similarly, if a person were to say "I'm daxing it," the same principal is at work with cues and word patterns that indicate a verb or action word. Babies actually can use these patterns as clues to the meanings of new words they are learning.

By about 15 months, babies are able to track more complicated "non-adjacent relationships" in which the word cue may be even further removed.

"We often think about coming after word-learning, but in fact, my research shows that all this information that babies are picking up in that first year of life about how are occurring in their language, actually is supporting this process of word-learning prior to mastery of language."

Explore further: Study: Word sounds contain clues for language learners

Related Stories

Study: Word sounds contain clues for language learners

September 13, 2011
( -- Why do words sound the way they do? For over a century, it has been a central tenet of linguistic theory that there is a completely arbitrary relationship between how a word sounds and what it means.

Study links bilingual babies' vocabulary to early brain differentiation

August 29, 2011
Babies and children are whizzes at learning a second language, but that ability begins to fade as early as their first birthdays.

Bilingualism no big deal for brain, researcher finds

May 31, 2011
How do people who speak more than one language keep from mixing them up? How do they find the right word in the right language when being fluent in just one language means knowing about 30,000 words?

Recommended for you

Do all people experience similar near-death-experiences?

July 26, 2017
No one really knows what happens when we die, but many people have stories to tell about what they experienced while being close to death. People who have had a near-death-experience usually report very rich and detailed ...

Heart rate study tests emotional impact of Shakespeare

July 26, 2017
In a world where on-screen violence has become commonplace, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company is turning to science to discover whether the playwright can still make our hearts race more than 400 years on.

Talking to yourself can help you control stressful emotions

July 26, 2017
The simple act of silently talking to yourself in the third person during stressful times may help you control emotions without any additional mental effort than what you would use for first-person self-talk – the way people ...

Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

Psychopaths are better at learning to lie, say researchers

July 25, 2017
Individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are better at learning to lie than individuals who show few psychopathic traits, according to a study published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry. The ...

Visual clues we use during walking and when we use them

July 25, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A trio of researchers with the University of Texas and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has discovered which phase of visual information processing during human walking is used most to guide the feet accurately. ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
They should try this without allowing the babies to see the researchers' mouths forming the words.

Iow, if they couldn't see a mouth speaking to them, would it effect the way they learn language ?
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Actually the learning of language is pretty difficult, if you have no clue, what the language is and you don't know any. The learning of another language is a much easier, because you can refer to your existing knowledge and analogies. Despite of this, many people learn the foreign languages many years, whereas the children can learn mother language from scratch in just three to four years. It's remarkable intellectual performance, not corresponding the alleged silliness of children's brain.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Peek-a-boo is one of the sounds encountered. The sound boo has an unimaginable broad spectrum of meaning - movement, eye contact, surprise, etc,. etc.

Normally you don't see the mouth of your booer, just their eyes.

One of the first sounds encountered and one of the last sounds spoken to convey meaning about anything tangible.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
I wonder then if babies can be taught multilingual capabilities right off the bat. Maybe teach them two languages at once while they are so receptive.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Isaac, most of the time the child doesn't see the mouth. He may be in his crib while Mom is on the phone. (Which women do all the time when Dad is working.) Later the child is playing and again Mom talks with the neighbor, or a friend is over.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
Two languages at a time is usual in countries with more than one language. In Canada a lot of babies learn French from one parent and English from the other. The same is true in many European countries.
not rated yet Dec 10, 2011
In Asia, children at a very young age learn multiple languages. My nephew who is only 18 months old can count in Spanish, English, Tagalog and Chinese. He was taught how to count in Spanish in 1 sitting, he repeated it several times after without flaw. Two factors,I believe are very important in learning new languages, the manner of teaching as well as learning the language from a native speaker.

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.