Saturday, January 06, 2007

Is all baby babble the same language?

Who's asking: Anna Bragdon, China, ME

I'm paraphrasing Anna's question. She noticed that her not-quite-five-month old, Wyatt, makes the same noises as a child of similar age born in the United States, although Wyatt spent his first four months (plus nine months in the womb) in Korea.

So is all baby talk the same language, the way (presumably) all dog talk is the same language?

Actually, no -- but yes, too.

Scientists know that babies hear and respond to speech even before they're born. They don't know the meanings of words, but they recognize recurring sounds and rhythms of speech, and from a very early age, they are more likely to pay attention to speech that follows the rhythm of their mother's.

That said, researchers at the University of Texas have identified four word patterns common to all babies, regardless of nationality. Babies make these noises because of the shape of the human mouth and jaw: "ma-ma," "da-da," "ba-ba," and "ta-ta."

This explains why the word for "mother" in almost every human language begins with or includes that "ma" sound. The word for "father" almost always includes the sounds "da," "ba," or "pa," which is very close to "ba." Following those sounds quickly are "na" and "ya."

In Korean, the word for "mommy" is "umma" (UM-ma) and the word for "daddy" is "oppa" (OP-pah). So whether Wyatt is trying to say "umma," or "mama," he's making the same sounds.

1 comment:

Tom Ehrenfeld said...


More questions for the answergal:

What sounds do animals make in other languages? (I.e. what does a cow say in French or Farsi? And so forth?)

How do you like your Mac?