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Babies’ Babbles Reflect Their Involvement in Language Development

Babies’ with profound hearing loss who received cochlear implants to improve their hearing soon babbled as often as their hearing peers, an MU researcher found. Photo By Bjorn Knetsch from The Netherlands, courtesy of the MU News Bureau. 


Mary Fagan says babies are motivated to babble based on hearing themselves, which reinforces the importance of early interventions for children with profound hearing loss. Photo courtesy of the MU News Bureau. 

“Dada” is a first word for many babies. Babbling sounds with consonant-vowel repetitions, such as “dada,” are common among infants once they reach 8 months old; however, these sounds are not prevalent among infants who have profound hearing loss – that is, until they receive cochlear implants. Now, University of Missouriresearch shows that babies’ repetitive babbles primarily are motivated by infants’ ability to hear themselves. Additionally, infants with profound hearing loss who received cochlear implants to improve their hearing soon babbled as often as their hearing peers, allowing them to catch up developmentally.

“Hearing is a critical aspect of infants’ motivation to make early sounds,” said Mary Fagan, an assistant professor of communication science and disorders in the MU School of Health Professions. “The fact that they attend to and learn from their own behaviors, especially in speech, highlights how infants’ own experiences help their language, social and cognitive development. This research doesn’t diminish the importance of the speech that babies hear from others – we know they need to learn from others – but it raises our awareness that infants are not just passive recipients of what others say to them. They are actively engaged in their own developmental process.”

Fagan studied the babbles of 27 hearing infants and 16 infants with profound hearing loss before and after they received cochlear implants, which are small electronic devices embedded into the bone behind the ear that replace some functions of the damaged inner ear. Before receiving cochlear implants, babies with profound hearing loss rarely produced repetitive vocalizations, such as ‘ba-ba’ or ‘da-da.’ Within a few months of receiving cochlear implants, the number of babies who produced repetitive vocalizations increased, the number of vocalizations that contained repetitive syllables increased, and the number of actual repetitions in the string, such as ‘ba-ba-ba-ba-ba,’ increased, Fagan said.


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