More Language

May 29th, 2007at 07:16am Posted by Eli

I can’t think of any practical use for this, but it sure is interesting:

As any new parent will attest, babies are amazing. And to the list of remarkable things infants can do, here’s a new one: they can distinguish one language from another just by the sight of a talking face, not sound.

(…)

The researchers showed silent videotapes of a bilingual speaker saying a sentence in French or English until the baby got bored and looked away. They followed that with a tape of the speaker saying the same sentence in the other language, and observed whether that caught the baby’s attention, indicating that the baby recognized a difference and was attracted to something new.

They report in the journal Science that 4- and 6-month-old infants from English-only households were able to tell that a different language was being spoken. Eight-month-old infants from English-only homes, however, were no longer able to discriminate between languages.

“They’re losing sensitivity to this” as they grow older, Ms. Weikum said. “There’s really no reason for them to hang on to this ability if they are only going to be learning one language.”

By contrast, 8-month-olds from bilingual households could still discriminate between languages.

It has been thought that visual cues like lip, cheek and head movements provide just redundant information for verbal communication. Auditory signals are much stronger, Ms. Weikum said, and transmit more cues for babies to pick up.

The research shows that infants have the power to process all kinds of cues. “From a very young age, they’re capable of taking in a lot of language information,” she said.

That really is pretty cool.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science,Weirdness


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