Researchers in Finland had a group of mothers expose their babies to a fake word—“tatata”—through recordings that repeated the word hundreds of times from the 29th week of pregnancy until birth. After birth, the researchers used scans to test the activity in the brains of all the babies in the study when they heard the word. Those who’d heard the made-up word in utero reacted more strongly to it than babies who weren’t exposed to it. The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We believe this shows how well the brain at this age adapts to sounds. It is a sign of very early language learning, or adaptation to the sounds they heard,” said study co-author Minna Huotilainen. “A newborn baby is not an empty canvas, but has already learned how his or her mother and other family members speak.”