What is the natural language of mankind?

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If you raised a newly born baby inside a bubble, you took care of him, provided him food and cleaned him, but made sure he doesn’t hear a single word from anybody. When children subjected to such conditions become able to speak, which language will they develop? In other words, what is the natural language of mankind?

The first experiment to learn about the innate language of mankind was conducted around 2,700 years ago. The Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik I ordered two babies to be raised in isolation. After the experiment was done, one of the children babbled something that sounded like “bekos”, a word that describes “bread” in the ancient Phrygian language. So, it was declared by the pharaoh that Phrygian was the innate language of all mankind.

In the 13th century, Emperor Frederick II decided to take this experiment much further and raise the children without human interaction. The babies were only fed and never talked to or touched. Unfortunately, they couldn’t survive and died from neglect.

In the 15th century, King James IV of Scotland made a mute woman raise babies alone on an island. He reported that those babies ended up speaking perfect Hebrew. But historians were skeptical of these claims. When the same experiment was repeated again by the Mughal emperor Akbar, he came to the conclusion that speech arose from hearing, thus children raised without hearing human speech would become mute.

Now, all these experiments sound interesting and cruel at the same time, but modern science has already revealed how we develop language. As a matter of fact we start learning language at the 4th month while still in womb. So, whatever the mother speaks or whatever you say around a pregnant woman will be recognized by the baby. Some of the words will be retained and will likely be used after birth. Remember that the sound-processing parts of baby’s brain become active in the last three months of pregnancy. And since sound can travel well through the mother’s abdomen, it’s fair to say that the baby can recognize any speech coming from the outside world.

What’s even more interesting is that babies can immediately differentiate between sounds from their native language and a foreign language just a few hours after their birth! A recent study found that babies can even distinguish between two languages one month BEFORE they are born and respond differently to hearing a language they are not familiar with. When they hear a foreign language they’re not familiar with, their heart rate changes. This means they recognize a rhythmical difference between the sound of their native language and that of a foreign language.

Ohh! And BTW, babies do enjoy music while still in the womb. So, please avoid listening to Justin Bieber during pregnancy …… or anytime for that matter.


Sources: PNASActa PaediatrNeuroReportAnalyzing CulturesChronicle of SalimbeneFrederick’s Experiment.

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