Speaking of the Tower of Babble
. . .
. . . No matter what the language, baby talk contains four distinct, universal patterns of vowels and consonants--ma-ma, da-da, ba-ba, goo-goo--that may have been the original building blocks of speech, University of Texas researchers contend. . . .
. . . Two-month-old babies can remember word sounds and the variations of speech. At six months, infants begin to pair sounds with a specific meaning. About the same time, infants are tuned to the distinctive sounds of their native tongue. By 7 months, they can deduce where sentences appear or words start and stop. And infants start memorizing words they hear long before they have any idea what they might mean.
An average year-old infant may understand 50 words. That number can triple in a month or two. By 24 months, children can recognize a word in their vocabulary within 600 milliseconds. By high school, the average young person may know 60,000 words, picking them up at the rate of about 10 new words a day. It makes learning a language look like child's play.
From a review
of the book HOW BABIES TALK: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life
. . . Infants enter the world "hard-wired" for language, Hirsh-Pasek says. "Babies are not simply passive, receptive beings who sit there being cute," she explains. "Sure, they're adorable, but they also have very active minds, and they take in everything we give them." In fact, researchers know that a 7-month-old fetus can hear its parents because, like a newborn, its heart rate declines and then returns to normal in response to interesting sounds. . . .
. . . But forget piping Mozart to your unborn fetus or flashing foreign words at your newborn: "All you need to do," Hirsh-Pasek says, "is to talk and listen. Your baby wants to communicate with you. And, when toddlers are immersed in language, they use their language earlier and more efficiently." . . .
The review also gives a summary of what they learn at various ages.
Also:The Origins of Babble
In their decades-long search for the universal truths about language acquisition, Jusczyk and collaborators around the world have found that at every stage of development, babies know a lot more than they'd been given credit for. The very seeds of language learning, in fact, start to develop in the womb.
"The rhythmic properties of English are such that English words usually (about 75 percent of the time) begin with a stressed (or accented) syllable," says Houston. Think of "bottle," "carrot," "baby," "pencil." Babies raised in an English-speaking environment, the theory goes, apparently recognize this acoustical strong-weak pattern, and use it to pick out words in the sea of babble--that is, to segment speech.
If a word does not fit the strong-weak pattern, Englishspeaking parents make it conform to the pattern, adds Jusczyk: "horse" becomes "horsie." "Dog" becomes "doggie." It is as though parents instinctively know that the strong-weak pattern will help their baby learn the outlines of a word. Not every word in English obeys the strong-weak rule, but finding words that abide by the rule may be an entry point into the language.
But not all languages favor strong-weak accented two-syllable words. Consider chalet and touché and many other French words. They are syllable-timed. Both syllables receive approximately equal emphasis. "So how do French babies learn to segment words?" asks Jusczyk.
The last syllable of many French words is slightly longer than the first syllable (think of château). "Maybe French babies look for [a second] syllable that is accented just a little bit longer," posits Jusczyk. Jusczyk's wife, Ann-Marie, who is laboratory coordinator for the infant language studies, recently trained researchers in France who are now investigating this question. After France, the Jusczyks hope to conduct similar studies in countries where other languages are spoken.
. . . as well as other interesting tidbits on grammar.
I found these links while searching for confirmation of something that I'd heard a while back, that babies tend to say "da-da" before "ma-ma." Haven't found that, yet.