Brains and Babbling

Brains and Babbling

Conventional wisdom teaches that babies’ babbling is just the happy accident of babies’ opening and closing their mouths and jaws, and learning how to use their lips and tongues.

The latest research suggests instead that babies are enthusiastic code breakers pursuing a high level mission: decoding the secret code by which their parents communicate. They do this the way professionals do, breaking down the code into small chunks. A study published in the September 6, 2001 issue of Nature provides fascinating evidence of this.

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto studied children with normal hearing who were born to deaf parents who communicated primarily with sign language. These babies with normal hearing babbled — with their hands! They produced bite-sized bits of sign language!

I believe babies’ early ‘mamamma’s and bababa’s are not random noises but part of a very sophisticated process of imitation, experimentation, and understanding that enables them to break the code of a foreign language more quickly than I could.

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Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

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