How do squishy baby faces learn language?

On Friday we ran a story in the News@Northeastern about psy­chology pro­fessor Iris Berent’s research with infants on lan­guage acqui­si­tion. One of her main research ques­tions is whether we are born with the innate ability to rec­og­nize lin­guistic rules. For instance, the word “blog” sounds okay to our ear as adults, but “bnog” does not. Many sounds are pre­ferred across sev­eral lan­guages — “pl-​​” for example, is more common than “pt-​​” in lan­guages other than just English.

Berent is cur­rently run­ning a behav­ioral study on chil­dren ages 6 to 12 months to help answer this ques­tion. Below is the video she is using. The idea is that chil­dren will look at the screen longer when they hear sounds that are familiar to them. If the pat­terns are the same among the younger and older chil­dren, it might indi­cate that some lin­guistic rules are learned ear­lier than others.

This was a par­tic­u­larly pop­ular story project for sev­eral of us ladies in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions office, once Lori Lennon of the Col­lege of Sci­ence reminded us that this was research with “adorable, squishy baby faces” to keep it interesting.

Follow the team’s work on twitter @infantphonology.

photo: enicky0680, “Ella” June 4, 2010 via Flickr, Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution