UCLA The Atomic Grammatical C

Read this New York Times article  (Links to an external site.)that describes some interesting research out of Germany, which shows that babies seem to cry in different ways depending on their native language. It suggests something that linguists have hypothesized for some time: humans may be developing linguistic habits and traits in utero, or at the very least in the earliest stages of infancy. Think about the babies that you have been around, especially if you have been around babies from different linguistic backgrounds. Do you recall differences in how babies made sounds, or even cried? If you haven’t been around babies (or not in a very long time), reflect on the possibility of the research. Overall, think about what this research could mean in terms of Universal Grammar.

Between Friday and Sunday, please reply to at least two of your colleagues’ posts. Useful comments include engaging in dialogue, reflection, or suggestion. If you find that you agree with a given response and have nothing else to add, then I challenge you to reply to someone who has a different perspective than yours, and explore the differences.


The first paragraph of the article reminds me of the memes that go *___ in ___* for example the cries in Spanish meme. What sets that apart from crying in another language? This might be a difficult topic for me as I am not the biggest fan of infants, so I have not been around many of them. However, a neighbor did have a baby a few years ago and for a long period of time they would have music blasting every day and they would speak to their child all day so they were doing the right thing. This point in the article about prosody answered my question about multilingual mothers and how those languages are distinguished in prosody and how that helps the babies acquire many languages at the same time or roughly the same time. As for what this research can mean for universal grammar. All languages share some properties and this would be one in terms of language acquisition.\


I have little experience with newborns and babies, but the implications of this study are fascinating. Not only can children differentiate between languages before they understand the meaning of individual words, they can hear and interpret the sounds of their native tongue in utero or very soon after birth. That’s so rad!

In regards to universal grammar, this is definitely a piece of evidence in favor of the concept: babies interpret and mimic the languages around them from an incredibly early age, without being taught the proper tonal shifts or syllabic rhythms. That is also likely how children can acquire multiple languages growing up and not mix them up; the tone patterns of languages are different enough to separate each language into its own mental category as the child learns.

Finn Mead

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