Mum Speaks Mandarin? Expect Baby To Have A Singsong Cry

Babies whose mothers speak a tonal language exhibit a more melodic crying pattern, according to a study.

AsianScientist (Aug. 23, 2016) – Researchers in China and Germany have shown that babies whose mothers speak a tonal language exhibit a more melodic crying pattern. Their work was published in the Journal of Voice.

For tonal languages such as Mandarin, pitch and pitch fluctuation determine the meaning of words. For example, four characteristic sounds must be mastered to speak Mandarin.

In the present study, researchers from Beijing Normal University and the University of Würzburg wondered: if pregnant women speak such complex tonal languages, does it show in the crying of their neonates, or newborn infants?

“The crying of neonates whose mothers speak a tonal language is characterized by a significantly higher melodic variation as compared to, for example, German neonates,” said Professor Kathleen Wermke, head of the Center for Pre-speech Development and Developmental Disorders at the University of Würzburg and lead author of two studies on the subject.

In a previous study, the researchers showed that infants of the Nso in Cameroon exhibited a significantly higher “intra-utterance overall pitch variation,” or the interval between the highest and the lowest tone. Also, the short-term rise and fall of tones during a cry utterance was more intensive in comparison with the neonates of German-speaking mothers. Wermke described their crying as sounding like chanting.

The results were similar for the present study, focusing on 55 newborn babies from China, but to a somewhat lesser degree. The babies exhibit in their crying characteristic melodic patterns influenced by their environment in the womb—even before they coo their first sounds or try out speech-like ‘syllabic babbling,’ Wermke said.

The article can be found at: Wermke et al. (2016) Fundamental Frequency Variation in Crying of Mandarin and German Neonates.


Source: University of Würzburg; Photo: Shutterstock.
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