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How do babies process language?

Just like adults, according to new research.

Scientists from the University of California, San Diego, have shown that babies process language in the same way as adults and can understand many words adults are saying. It was previously thought that infants evolved into processing language like adults, starting out with an entirely different mechanism of doing so.

The researchers used MRI scans and an imagine process called MEG to estimate brain activity in 12 to 18 months olds in two experiments.

In the first experiment, the infants listened to words accompanied by sounds with similar acoustic properties, but no meaning, in order to determine if they were capable of distinguishing between the two. In the second phase, the researchers tested whether the babies were capable of understanding the meaning of these words. For this experiment, babies saw pictures of familiar objects and then heard words that were either matched or mismatched to the name of the object: a picture of a ball followed by the spoken word ball, versus a picture of a ball followed by the spoken word dog.

Brain activity indicated that the infants were capable of detecting the mismatch between a word and a picture, as shown by the amplitude of brain activity. The “mismatched,” or incongruous, words evoked a characteristic brain response located in the same left frontotemporal areas known to process word meaning in the adult brain. The tests were repeated in adults to confirm that the same incongruous picture/word combinations presented to babies would evoke larger responses in left frontotemporal areas. (Source: Science Codex)

This research has implications for future studies, including the development of tests that would allow early screening for language disabilities or autism.

I wonder if babies can also distinguish between different languages?