NZILBB Seminar with Kathleen Wermke

10 October 2018

Bilingualism from a 'crib bilinguals' perspective

Kathleen Wermke from the University Würzburg delivers a NZILBB seminar.

Language acquisition starts early in a human’s life, it develops with remarkable speed and is directly influenced by the surrounding language. Indeed, auditory learning starts as early as the third trimester of gestation, and melodic features are well preserved across the abdominal barrier, making supra-segmental characteristics very salient for the human foetus.

Hearing two languages regularly during pregnancy has been found to put infants on the road to bilingualism by birth: Canadian researchers found that infants born to bilingual mothers (who spoke both languages regularly during pregnancy) exhibit different language preferences than infants born to mothers speaking only one language. But can this aptitude be extended from infant sound perception to their sound production?

In several studies of tonal and non-tonal language environments, neonates were found to be capable of reproducing salient pitch properties (intonation) of their respective mother tongue in their own vocal production. However, all these studies investigated neonates of monolingual mothers. Will a bilingual stimulation confuse a foetus? Will he/she mix prenatally experienced melodic speech features in his/her crying? From an evolutionary perspective, the presentation will sketch infant bilingualism by referring to studies from different mono- and bilingual language environments.


  • Friday 19 October 2018
  • 1pm - 2pm
  • Locke 104a



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