What happens in babies' brains between babbling and speech


Most babies babble by 7 months of age. Most don't start talking real words until they're a year old. What's going on in their heads in the meantime?

This is kind of your standard hook-a-baby-up-to-a-brain-scanner-and-see-what-lights-up research. But I think it is particularly interesting in the way that it emphasizes the very hard work that goes into getting the muscle movements of face, tongue, and vocal cords coordinated in just the right way in order to say what it is that you want to say. We often talk about the "can't talk yet" stage of babyhood as though the baby isn't processing speech yet and doesn't understand words. But that's not really true. At a certain point, they get the words, but can't necessarily get their bodies to repeat the words. (And, in fact, this is exactly the sort of situation that infant sign language is meant to address.)

The study has social implications, suggesting that the slow and exaggerated parentese speech – "Hiiiii! How are youuuuu?" – may actually prompt infants to try to synthesize utterances themselves and imitate what they heard, uttering something like "Ahhh bah bah baaah."

"Parentese is very exaggerated, and when infants hear it, their brains may find it easier to model the motor movements necessary to speak," Kuhl said.

Bonus: More photos and video of babies attached (kind of adorably, from my perspective) to brain scan equipment.