Communication before language

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    By David B. Chamberlain, Ph.D. - January 2005

Artikkel hentet fra APPPAH - "Association for Pre– and Perinatal Psychhology and Health"

Babies in the womb who have normal hearing and a normally stimulating environment are prepared to send and receive messages without benefit of the words, syllables, and phrases that begin appearing in a year or two after birth. Their daily experiences of communication are punctuated by self-initiated and reactive movements which express needs, interests, and feelings. This mode of communication continues through the life span and constitutes a truly universal human language.

Based on the early development of the senses, all of which develop in utero and function from early in gestation, the fetus remains in constant dialog with the surrounding environment. (See The Fetal Senses) This body talk includes responding to tastes and odors by abrupt behavior changes showing pleasure or displeasure; reacting against strong light, noise, pressure, or pain by gestures of defense or escape; and reacting to music by wild kicking or by calming down to listen or rest. One should not argue with body talk.

Ultrasound observations of behavior in the womb reveal that fetuses experience and express emotion. Observations made between 16 and 20 weeks of gestation have revealed fearful reactions to amniocentesis including extreme fluctuations in heart rate, as well as withdrawal from normal activity for a period of hours or days. With increasing use of amniocentesis, women are witnessing aggressive actions toward the needle itself: the baby attacking the needle barrel from the side! Observation of twins via ultrasound is revealing an unexpected range of feelings ex-pressed by holding hands, kissing, playing, kicking and hitting each other! This dialog before birth was not predicted.

The ability to signal distress by crying is a familiar aspect of infant behavior. Cries are often compelling. Babies need no lessons in how to cry, although adults need lessons in interpreting them. Technical measurements reveal that cries contain much information about disease, malnutrition, and genetic defects. Babies are sensitive to each other,s cries, discriminate between animal, human, and electronic cry sounds. They respond most strongly to cries of babies their own ages. The emotional turmoil which crying expresses can already exist in the womb and may be vocalized if air reaches the area around the fetal larynx. This intrauterine crying is termed "vagitus uterinus” (literally, squalling in the womb) and is well documented in medical literature. Over one hundred cases have been reported.

At birth, body talk is eloquent whether asserting anger and rage in clenched fists or in relaxed gestures, even smiles, conveying pleasure. Newborns clearly communicate their feelings about what has happened to them by contortions of the face, writhing movements of the torso, flailing movements of arms and legs, by changing color to angry red, dangerous blue or yellow, as well as by reassuring coos and gurgles.

These obvious skills of communication displayed by both prenates and newborns accompany skills of perception. Babies begin formal language training in the womb. An early discovery using acoustic spectrography revealed that the initial cry of a 900 gram baby already contained intonations, rhythms, and other speech features of the baby,s mother. By about 26 weeks of ge-station, this baby had acquired certain features of its "mother tongue.

More recent studies reveal unexpected learning of story passages and child rhymes in utero. a precocious demon-stration of language perception. After birth, babies show more interest in listening to an adult speaking in the mother tongue rather than in a different language. Language studies show that babies perceive the smallest units of sound, the phonemes, even better than adults do for about the first year of life. Superior lipreading skills are seen when babies quickly detect which sound track matches the talking faces they are watching. They also quickly spot the appropriate emotional sound track for the faces they are watching. In addition to these lip reading skills, both premature and full-term babies read faces well, and can immediately imitate a wideopen mouth, a protruding tongue, and expressions of happiness, sadness, or surprise.

Prenates and newborns arrive in this world equipped with universal human languages made possible by the volun-tary movement which begins around ten weeks gestational age, and by the early development of touch, taste/odor, hearing, and vision. The communication repertoire includes verbal and non-verbal expressions, body color, emo-tion, cry sounds, hand gestures, a range of facial statements, instant imitation, and lipreading. Thus, all humans are prepared to send and receive messages long before the development of formal language.

(Jan 05)

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26.10 | 17:55

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09.08 | 21:23

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