I’ve been reading The Scientist in the Crib by Gopnik, Meltzoff, and Kuhl and learning about the ways babies are so very amazing. We all began with such remarkable capabilities.
The chapter on Language acquisition is most interesting. Here’s an excerpt:
“The way we categorically perceive speech is unique to each language. In English we make a sharp categorical distinction between r and l sounds. Japanese speakers don’t. In fact, Japanese speakers can’t hear the distinction between American r and l sounds, even when they are listening very hard. (Hence all the dubious jokes about Japanese speakers ordering what sounds like ‘flied lice’ instead of ‘fried rice’.)…Exposure to a particular language has altered our brains and shaped our minds, so that we perceive sounds differently. This in turn leads speakers of different languages to produce sounds differently.”
This however, is not true until about 6 months of life. Before that, “babies are born listening like universal linguists.”
“So babies start out knowing much more about language than we would ever have thought. Newborn babies already go well beyond the actual physical sounds they hear, dividing them into more abstract categories. And they can make all the distinctions that are used in the world’s languages. Babies are ‘citizens of the world.’ Perhaps we grown-up scientists failed to predict this because our skills are so much more limited. Our citizen-of-the-world babies clearly outperform their culture-bound parents.”
Learning this makes me think about the way I view and interact with others. Since having baby Addair, I can’t help but to imagine everyone as someone’s precious and miraculous newborn.
What if we remembered the vulnerable way each of us entered the world? Especially when we encounter someone doing something mean? Instead of thinking that a person should “know better by now”, maybe we could consider her a mislead youngun that has only forgotten what she once knew.
[ from ashley who is listening to Gillian Welch (Hell Among the Yearlings)]