The New York Times recently published a fascinating article on the science of language in the womb and how babies learn and absorb the spoken word.
New research is teasing out more of the profoundly miraculous process of language learning in babies. And it turns out that even more is going on prenatally than previously suspected.
By looking at international adoptees — babies who were adopted soon after birth and who grow up hearing a different language than what they heard in the womb — researchers can see how what babies hear before and soon after birth affects how they perceive sounds, giving new meaning to the idea of a “birth language.”
Experts have known for some time that newborns prefer to listen to voices speaking the language that they’ve been listening to in the womb, said Anne Cutler, a psycholinguist who is a professor at the Marcs Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development at Western Sydney University, in Australia.
The article goes on to discuss a study in which Korean infants adopted into Dutch families picked up Korean sounds significantly better than their Dutch counterparts in the control group.
“This ability to generalize and to draw abstract conclusions across data is the most important quality of the human mind,” Dr. Cutler said. “This is what makes us human.”
Babies and children can learn new languages perfectly after birth; the learning that goes on prenatally is still fascinating in elucidating the processes of language and brain development.
The discovery is certainly a very interesting advance in the science of language and brain development, but what is even more interesting is the acknowledgment by a segment of the scientific community that babies are learning before they are even born. As the doctor quoted from the article says, being able to process information and make conclusions from that information – however simplistic – is “what makes us human”.
As the debate about abortion and right-to-life rages on, it is important to note that science and research increasingly point to a baby in the womb being unquestionably deserving of the term “life”. Babies in the womb observably exhibit every feature needed to qualify an entity as “alive”. From the division of cells to the development of a beating heart to the ability to feel pain and discern language and vocal patterns there is little room for doubt about when life begins.
If one does not wish to concede that life begins at the first division of the first cell, at the very least we can be certain it begins many months before birth.
The abortion question is no longer a question of when life starts. Science speaks loudly on this issue, learning new things like that of the Dutch study on a regular basis. It is important that those fighting for the right to life for pre-born infants understand we are no longer arguing on those biological terms anymore. The fight can only and should only be framed now as wether or not it is morally acceptable for a society to approve of ending the life of a baby for any reason.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t always be asked so bluntly, but it is important to ask abortion advocates if there is any circumstance under which a baby deserves to die. We should not be afraid to force the pro-abortion lobby to answer “yes” to that question and own their position, because science is no longer able to provide them cover.
For an excellent and more in-depth analysis of this study and what it means to the issue of life I highly recommend Albert Mohler’s Daily briefing from 2/27/17.