Researchers in Germany have discovered that babies are born with accents.
Writing in Current Biology, University of Wurzburg scientist Birgit Mampe and her colleagues recorded the cries of 60 newborn babies, half of them French, half of them German. The cries were analysed and in each case a strong signature "melody contour" emerged that was highly correlated with the nationality of the baby.
Those born to French mothers produced a rising melody contour whilst German babies had a falling melody contour; in both cases these match the signatures of their parents' native languages.
Previous research has focused mainly on how babies respond to sounds, particularly in responding selectively to their mothers' voices, but this had suggested that this sort of recognition occurs after about 4 months of age.
However, this new research reveals convincingly that babies have been listening intently to the sounds of their mothers' voices in utero and are born with the ability to sound the same.
This, say the scientists, is probably the key - "newborns are motivated to imitate their mothers in order to attract them and foster bonding. Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother's speech that they are able to imitate, this might explain melody contour imitation at such an early age."