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Bilingual babies know grammar by 7 months

Posted on Feb 15, 04:28PM | IANS

Toronto, Feb 15 : Babies can differentiate between two languages and begin to learn them with vast, different grammatical structures, even at seven months, says a new research.

The study shows that infants in bilingual environments use pitch and duration cues to discriminate between languages - such as English and Japanese - with opposite word orders.

In English, a function word comes before a content word (the dog, his hat, with friends, for example) and the duration of the content word is longer, while in Japanese or Hindi, the order is reversed, and the pitch of the content word higher, the journal Nature Communications reports.

"By as early as seven months, babies are sensitive to these differences and use these as cues to tell the languages apart," said University of British Columbia (UBC) psychologist Janet Werker, study co-author.

Previous research by Werker and Judit Gervain, linguist at the Universite Paris Descartes, France, and co-author of the new study, showed that babies use frequency of words in speech to discern their significance, according to an UBC statement.

"For example, in English the words 'the' and 'with' come up a lot more frequently than other words - they're essentially learning by counting," said Gervain.

"But babies growing up bilingual need more than that, so they develop new strategies that monolingual babies don't necessarily need to use."

"If you speak two languages at home, don't be afraid, it's not a zero-sum game," said Werker.

"Your baby is very equipped to keep these languages separate and they do so in remarkable ways."

These findings were presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston.