I read this article on the BBC Health website which was titled, “German researchers say babies begin to pick up the nuances of their parents’ accents while still in the womb.” In the article, there is a link to an audio clip which has two babies crying, one French and one German. ‘The researchers studied the cries of 60 healthy babies [from 3-5 days of age] born to families speaking French and German. The French newborns cried with a rising “accent” while the German babies’ cries had a falling inflection.’
That’s possible. It’s also possible that the babies were manifesting different needs, and crying in different ways. I remember watching something on Oprah a few years ago, in which a woman said that in her studies, babies from all over the globe made the same sounds for the same needs — all hungry babies would make one particular kind of cry, while all babies who are wet or uncomfortable in some way would make another, and those who just wanted to be held and comforted might make another. They played sounds of babies crying through the speaker system of the show, and the woman would say, “Oh, that baby is _____.”
It seems that these two things would be mutually exclusive. However, there is something in the back of my mind that says the woman was focusing on the baby’s “consonant” sounds — that hungry babies would start their cry with a “nnnnn” sound — more than the “intonation.”
One of my friends admitted that when her oldest child was a baby, she had no clue why he was crying, and would just “start at the top and go down” the list of possible reasons; but when her second came, she could hear differences in his cries that let her say with some certainty, “That’s a hunger cry”; or “he sounds like he needs to burp.” It’s been a few years since my children were babies, but I think I was pretty good at this. I know I’m good now at telling what is going on by slight audible clues! Sometimes I don’t know if it’s just the way they’re crying, or if I happened to hear the thump that led up to them crying which gave me a clue; but more often than not, I can tell which part of the body my child hurt by the way he cries.
Whether the inflection theory is correct, or the “all babies cry the same for the same needs” theory is correct, one thing I am certain of: babies are born to communicate, and it behooves us (especially mothers, but all care-givers) to treat infants as thinking, feeling individuals.