Dad called me the other day and sent me to NPR.org for a cool segment on how babies learn to speak.
“We want to know how it is that we train our muscles, our tongues and lips to do that very precise mother-tongue kind of thing,” Kuhl says.
They don’t go into much detail, but it’s a fascinating glimpse at a part of the mystery:
The scientists watched the babies’ brain activity while they listened to various sounds. Kuhl’s team discovered that by 12 months, millions of nerve cells in the brain’s two language centers are successfully connected and communicating: first hearing the sound, then producing it.
“The brain is going into its environment and selectively grabbing out sounds that have to do with speech and processing them in a completely different way from the way that other sounds are being processed,” says Bill Greenough, a neuroscientist with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Unfortunately, they don’t link to a more detailed study. I guess one would have to seek out the original article, which would probably not be terribly readable from a layman’s perspective.
Anyway, there’s details in the sound clip that aren’t available in the online text so it’s worth a listen.