I thought this was a cool study reported by Discovery News and AFP last week. I haven’t been able to find the original study to read– or at least to link to the abstract, but it’s by Janet Werker and colleagues and it appears in Psychological Science. Basically, they found that babies who had been exposed to two languages in utero were sensitive to those two languages after birth. In contrast, babies who’d only heard one language were only sensitive to that language. This makes sense and is consistent with other work on speech perception in utero. Patricia Kuhl for example has reported that newborns prefer their mother’s voice — this is perhaps because they had several months of hearing the sounds and patterns of their mother’s voice and it is familiar to them. Bilingual babies however have to cope with two systems that may have different sound patterns, intonational contours, and different sound combinations. But, what’s remarkable is that they can handle it and that they seem to recognize it!
bilingualism across the lifespan