Nicolas Claidière
Laboratoire de psychologie cognitive
Aix-Marseille University, CNRS
13331 Marseille, France

Can you tell the language of the mother from her baby’s cry?

A recently published article by Birgit Mampe, Angela D. Friederici, Anne Christophe and Kathleen Wermke entitled “Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language” shows evidence that newborns’ cry melody is influenced by the native language of their mother. The authors analysed the melody contours of 1254 cries (selected from 2500 recordings) from 30 French and 30 German monolingual families. They normalized each cry duration and measured the time at which the maximum pitch was reached and the time at which the maximum intensity was reached. Babies from both German and French group produced various cries with very different melodies, but in mean there was a significant difference between the melody of German baby cries and of French baby cries. We can therefore conclude that, on average, the baby cries’ melodies are closer to the melody of their mother’s tongue than to that other tongues (but see Mark Liberman Language Log post for some methodological issues).

This study provides the first evidence of the fact that newborns sound production is influenced by the language of their parents.

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