Representative Image of a baby
Representative Image of a baby

Newborns have inbuilt ability to pick out words from speech: Study

ANI | Updated: Jan 29, 2019 22:42 IST

Washington D.C. [USA], Jan 29 (ANI): Newborn babies have inbuilt ability to pick out words from the language, a recent study has suggested. It shows newborns, without understanding what it means, are able to pick out individual words from speech.
Before infants can learn words, they must identify those words in continuous speech. Yet, the speech signal lacks obvious boundary markers, which poses a potential problem for language acquisition.
Studies have found that by the middle of the first year, infants seem to have solved this problem. But it is unknown if segmentation abilities are present from birth, or if they only emerge after sufficient language exposure and/or brain maturation.
To understand this, a team of researchers conducted experiments to find the cues crucial for the segmentation of human speech.
The study has been published in the Journal of Developmental Science.  
The researchers played the infants a three-and-a-half minute audio clip in which four meaningless words, were buried in a stream of syllables.
Using a painless technique called Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, which shines red light into the brain, they were able to measure how much was absorbed, telling them which parts of the brain were active.
The researchers discovered two mechanisms in three-day-old infants, which give them the skills to pick out words in a stream of sounds.
The first mechanism is known as prosody, the melody of language, allows us to recognise when a word starts and stops.
The second is called the statistics of language, which describes how we compute the frequency of when sounds in a word come together.
The discovery provides a key insight into a first step to learning a language.
"We think this study highlights how sentient newborn babies really are and how much information they are absorbing. That's quite important for new parents and gives them some insight into how their baby is listening to them," said Alissa Ferry, lead researcher of the study.
"We then had the infants listen to individual words and found that their brains responded differently to the words that they heard than to slightly different words. This showed that even from birth infants can pick out individual words from the language," explained co-author Perrine Brusini.
According to the researchers, language is incredibly complicated and this study is about understanding how infants try to make sense of it when they first hear it.
"We often think of language as being made up of words, but words often blur together when we talk. So one of the first steps to learn a language is to pick out the words," they explained. (ANI)