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Babies THREE MONTHS before birth are able to recognize human speech patterns

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 26th, 2013
Catholic Online (

Scientists say that babies born up to three months premature can recognize different syllables in human speech. Anew study proved similarities in the way the brain processes language in the new-borns and adults, including specific neurological reactions to changes from the "ba" to "ga" sound and to a male to female voices.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Professor Fabrice Wallois of Picardie University in Amiens, France says that the findings suggest that early in the development of the brain it begins to decipher distinct sounds or "phonemes."

Using bedside functional optical imaging, Wallois and colleagues scanned 12 sleeping 28-32-week gestation age pre-term infants, the earliest age at which cortical responses to external stimuli can be recorded.

Wallois said that babies as young as three months before birth, a baby's brain establishes neural functions that help decipher human speech. At birth children can discriminate some syllables and recognize human speech but how these immature brain cells process it remains unclear.

Utilizing non-invasive scanners, Wallois and colleagues analyzed 12 sleeping premature infants born after 28 to 32 weeks while playing voice recordings.

This is the earliest age for neuronal responses to external stimuli and Prof Wallois found the premature brain can perceive differences in syllables.

The tests produced responses in the right frontal region of the brain, which is the first part of the brain to form, syllabic changes also sparked responses in the left hemisphere. This suggests certain linguistic brain areas exhibit a sophisticated degree of organization as early as three months prior to full term.

"We observed several points of similarity with the adult linguistic network. The research gives a new insight into the way mothers communicate with their babies - and how language skills develop," Wallois said.

"First, whereas syllables elicited larger right than left responses, the posterior temporal region escaped this general pattern, showing faster and more sustained responses over the left than over the right hemisphere.

"Second, discrimination responses to a change of phoneme (ba vs. ga) and a change of human voice (male vs. female) were already present and involved inferior frontal areas, even in the youngest infants.

"Third, whereas both types of changes elicited responses in the right frontal region, the left frontal region only reacted to a change of phoneme.

"These results demonstrate a sophisticated organization of areas at the very onset of cortical circuitry - three months before term.

"They emphasize the influence of innate factors on regions involved in linguistic processing and social communication in humans."

The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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