I studied English at Southern Oregon University, and I learned a lot about language. In my four years there, I really covered everything from Noam Chomsky’s general hypotheses to the specific synapse movement in the brain associated with speech. I came out with a good basic understanding of how we process language as humans, but the truth is that no one fully understands it. Language is one of the most incredible feats of the human brain, and it is truly what separates us from other species. There is no definite moment when we are able to comprehend language, and it sort of comes in waves as we learn human behavior in general.

Fast forward to my life today, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with my husband’s nephew. He is just turning four months old, and he is already vocalizing at the dinner table, clearly trying to get his two cents into the conversation. When I first started visiting, I was shocked—appalled actually—at how they spoke around the infant. They didn’t change their habits at all, and they were swearing, yelling at each other jokingly, and talking to the baby as if he were an old friend. Upon further consideration, I realized that this was exactly how the baby needed to learn the language.

I confirmed my own hypothesis by finding a recent study that claimed the same thing. “Baby talk,” or that obnoxious cutesy voice that your mother in-law insists on using every time she sees your little infant, will slow the time it takes for your baby to learn the language. Before words and grammar are mastered, babies are listening closely for speech patterns and vocal sounds. Baby talk only confuses them, and the more they hear, the longer it will take them to figure out how the language is supposed to sound.

In other words, my husband’s family is doing everything exactly right as far as language goes. They’re giving the baby plenty of time to hear how they speak, and they are even introducing him to their sarcasm early, so he’ll fit right in when he finally speaks up. He might be loud, and he might even swear earlier than most little kids, but there is something to be said about fitting in with your family as an evolutionary tribal advantage.

Source: Ginger Chan: Babies Recognize Grammar Before Learning Words. The Epoch Times. December 2011

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