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