The linguistic genius of babies

Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.


  1. #1 Jamie
    February 19, 2011

    I found this to be somewhat disappointing. I was expecting a demonstration of statistical reasoning in infants (based on your comments), which would indeed have been amazing. If you merely replace the phrase ‘taking statistics’ with the word ‘learning’ throughout her talk you get precisely the same information about what is going on in infants’ brains—none.

    But I did appreciate the demonstration that machine learning is not effective and that social brain processes have a necessary role in language development. Definitely worth posting…. thank you.

  2. #2 Grant
    February 20, 2011

    There’s a longer (and wordier!) version of her talk that I included along with the one above on my blog, which contains a little more detail. It is a pity that she didn’t explain what the importance of the “statistics” is. I thought to on my blog, but then didn’t have time. Very basically, consider a stream of sound and trying to identify the recurring “motifs” that make up the basic linguistic elements. It’s not quite the learning I think you mean, but using a sort of frequency analysis to pick out the “units” that language should be built upon.

  3. #3 Jamie
    February 20, 2011

    Thanks Grant, sounds interesting. I’ll check it out.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    February 20, 2011

    Jamie: (based on your comments) I made no comments. That’s a quote from the source of the video, their phrasing. I tend to agree with you.

    Grant, love your post.

  5. #5 feefuu
    February 21, 2011

    grant love your post thank is it