Brains and Babbling

Why do babies babble? Is babbling just random noise, or part of how children learn to communicate? Dr. Greene explores a fascinating new study.

Dr. Greene’s take on baby 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.

Published on: September 07, 2001
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

My 6 month old daughter cries and scream in her sleep at night sometimes and when i wake her up she looks confused. Why is this happening,is it a nightmare and are infants to young to have nightmares

Hi Amy,

Dr. Greene discusses the age children start to dream, nightmares and a state called confusional arousal (night terrors) in an answer to another reader. You can find it here –> The Truth about Children’s Dreams Nightmares and Night Terrors.

I hope this helps.