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Baby hands that move to the rhythm of language: hearing babies acquiring sign languages babble silently on the hands

Baby hands that move to the rhythm of language: hearing babies acquiring sign languages babble silently on the hands,10.1016/j.cognition.2003.10.007,C

Baby hands that move to the rhythm of language: hearing babies acquiring sign languages babble silently on the hands   (Citations: 28)
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The “ba, ba, ba” sound universal to babies’ babbling around 7 months captures scientific attention because it provides insights into the mechanisms underlying language acquisition and vestiges of its evolutionary origins. Yet the prevailing mystery is what is the biological basis of babbling, with one hypothesis being that it is a non-linguistic motoric activity driven largely by the baby's emerging control over the mouth and jaw, and another being that it is a linguistic activity reflecting the babies’ early sensitivity to specific phonetic–syllabic patterns. Two groups of hearing babies were studied over time (ages 6, 10, and 12 months), equal in all developmental respects except for the modality of language input (mouth versus hand): three hearing babies acquiring spoken language (group 1: “speech-exposed”) and a rare group of three hearing babies acquiring sign language only, not speech (group 2: “sign-exposed”). Despite this latter group's exposure to sign, the motoric hypothesis would predict similar hand activity to that seen in speech-exposed hearing babies because language acquisition in sign-exposed babies does not involve the mouth. Using innovative quantitative Optotrak 3-D motion-tracking technology, applied here for the first time to study infant language acquisition, we obtained physical measurements similar to a speech spectrogram, but for the hands. Here we discovered that the specific rhythmic frequencies of the hands of the sign-exposed hearing babies differed depending on whether they were producing linguistic activity, which they produced at a low frequency of approximately 1 Hz, versus non-linguistic activity, which they produced at a higher frequency of approximately 2.5 Hz – the identical class of hand activity that the speech-exposed hearing babies produced nearly exclusively. Surprisingly, without benefit of the mouth, hearing sign-exposed babies alone babbled systematically on their hands. We conclude that babbling is fundamentally a linguistic activity and explain why the differentiation between linguistic and non-linguistic hand activity in a single manual modality (one distinct from the human mouth) could only have resulted if all babies are born with a sensitivity to specific rhythmic patterns at the heart of human language and the capacity to use them.
Journal: Cognition , vol. 93, no. 1, pp. 43-73, 2004
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    • ...These results are in accordance with other results suggesting that gestures can be considered as a “proto-conversation” (Petitto, Holowka, Sergio, Levy, & Ostry, 2004; Trevarthen, 1996), and that manual gestures predict later success in language (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005)...

    Rana Esseilyet al. Handedness for grasping objects and pointing and the development of la...

    • ...These results are in accordance with other results suggesting that gestures can be considered as a “proto-conversation” (Petitto, Holowka, Sergio, Levy, & Ostry, 2004; Trevarthen, 1996), and that manual gestures predict later success in language (Iverson & Goldin-Meadow, 2005)...

    Rana Esseilyet al. Handedness for grasping objects and pointing and the development of la...

    • ...The three-dimensional motion of each finger was recorded using Optotrak’s (Northern Digital Inc., Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) infrared-emitting diodes (IREDs) at a sampling rate of 200 Hz. Optotrak’s active sensors measure the threedimensional position of the markers, with a precision of 0.1 mm at high sampling rates (Petitto, Holowka, Sergio, Levy, & Ostry, 2004)...

    Janeen D. Loehret al. Sequential and Biomechanical Factors Constrain Timing and Motion in Ta...

    • ...It has been hypothesized that the “ba-ba” babbling of infants (with onset around 7 months) may be a nonverbal motor activity related to the emergent control over mouth and jaw, or a linguistic activity reflecting early sensitivity to phonetic–syllabic patterns (Pettito, Holowka, Sergio, Levy, & Ostry, 2004)...

    Paul Treffneret al. Gestures and Phases: The Dynamics of Speech-Hand Communication

    • ...Some investigators have taken issue with the notion that reduplicated babbling reXects the properties of a developing vocal–motor system, arguing instead that babbling is a systematic and fundamentally linguistic behavior (e.g., see Petitto, Holowka, Sergio, Levy, & Ostry, 2004, for a recent discussion)...
    • ...Thus, for example, Petitto et al. (2004) have claimed that when infants babble, their production reXects the syllabic units of their language from the very start...

    Jana M. Iversonet al. The relationship between reduplicated babble onset and laterality bias...

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