As it turns out, a cry isn’t just a cry. Researcher Dr. Kathleen Wermke has spent her career studying if babies cry in different languages—and according to her data, they certainly do!
In Würzburg University Clinic’s Center for Pre-Speech Development and Developmental Disorders Wermke studies babies first sounds. The biologist/medical anthropologist now has an archive filled with nearly half a million recordings of babies from around the globe. She uses these to analyze how infants acquire and use language.
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So how do babies from different areas of the world cry differently? According to Wermke, infants with mothers who speak tonal types of languages (such as Mandarin) have complex cries. In comparison, Swedish newborns have sing-song-like cries.
Wermke told The New York Times, “Babies come to language through musical elements, through hearing the intonation of their mother tongue.”
When it comes to the how’s behind these language-based differences, researchers believe “prosody” is a major cause. Prosody, the rhythm and melody of the mother’s voice, is heard by the third trimester of pregnancy. This is the infant’s first experience with language and may account for the complexity, pitch and tonal differences babies exhibit when they cry and start to make their first sounds.