If you have an advanced college degree and are passing yourself off as a scientific researcher, you need something to look into; consequently, someone is underwriting the expense of a project that involves babies and learning the fundamentals of speech.
The headline and photo-caption accompanying the news story both declare that infants not only learn to speak from hearing sounds, but additionally use lip-reading as an instructive device.
I wish I could get a government grant to research these great-unknowns of our time. Advanced degrees couldn’t be much of a problem for me, since clearly they do not come into play as part of the experimentation or theorizing.
Babies – despite what these scientists would have you believe – do not read lips to learn to speak. Lip-reading requires an understanding of the language and – additionally – a fundamental knowledge of how the human mouth moves to form individual words. If you know how to speak and have been observant in watching people talk it is possible to turn down the sound on the television and make out a few words here and there. Those a bit more proficient can decipher enough words to extrapolate the context of what is being expressed.
Most of us can figure out the expletives being voiced by angry coaches and NFL owners in their glassed-in stadium suites, when shown in close up by the television cameras following a particularly disappointing play. It doesn’t take a lip-reading genius there, just an understanding of the situation and the vocabulary of the moment.
Babies don’t have a vocabulary. That’s why they are trying to learn how to speak. When mommy says something, little ones turn to face the sound.
The news story scientists have machines with electrodes that determine where little baby is looking, tracking the eye movements. The printouts indicate that – upon hearing speech – babies train their eyes on the mouth of the person speaking. The researcher’s ill-trained logic led them to believe that what they were witnessing was: lip reading in progress.
If a plate is dropped in a restaurant, nearly every head will turn in the direction of the crash. Once located, nearly every set of eyes will focus in on the broken dish, and then move to view the reaction of the guilty employee. It is human nature; beyond that, it is the nature of every living thing, whether it is a deer in the woods or a chimp in the zoo.
The baby hears a voice, finds the source of the noise, and then focuses on the source of the continuing speech. The child is not reading lips any more than the restaurant patrons are examining the forensics of the broken shards of china to determine the point of impact. Curiosity is all.
Humans learn by noticing, continued observation, and eventual imitation.
Those researchers who believe babies are lip-reading need to find some real scientists and – read my lips – learn a little something.