Researchers at the University of Padua have shown that by talking to their bump during pregnancy mothers can shape their unborn child's brain to the extent that it can recognise and react differently to its mother tongue from birth.
The study is published in the journal Science Advances.
The researchers examined 33 babies born to French-speaking mothers less than five days previously and made them listen to the fairy tale 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' in French, English and Spanish.
Electroencephalogram results showed that their brains were already 'tuned in' to their mother's language: listening to it triggered more complex neuronal activity that preserved the memory of past neural responses.
“This shows that in infants, exposure to the maternal language triggers brain processes of a complex nature, neuronal dynamics that are probably associated with language processing and learning,” said Judit Gervain of the Department of Developmental and Social Psychology at the University of Padua.
“These processes are much less strong when infants hear another language, and we can conclude that they were generated and evolved during prenatal development,” she added.
In other words, the infant's brain seems to be structured to remember and respond differently to the language it has heard before birth, and this enhanced response indicates a kind of linguistic 'privilege' that shapes the early stages of language learning.
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