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Research Proposal The effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition Prepared by: Kris
Research Proposal The effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition Prepared by: Kris
Research Proposal The effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition Prepared by: Kris

Research Proposal

The effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition

effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition Prepared by: Kris DeSmet and Beth Themmes
effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition Prepared by: Kris DeSmet and Beth Themmes
effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition Prepared by: Kris DeSmet and Beth Themmes

Prepared by:

Kris DeSmet and Beth Themmes

effects of prenatal stimulation on post-natal language acquisition Prepared by: Kris DeSmet and Beth Themmes

Table of Contents

Part I

Part I

Page

Communication Topic and Problem (Kris DeSmet)

1

Rationale (Beth Themmes)

1

Background (Kris DeSmet)

3

Focus Questions (Beth Themmes)

5

Objectives (Kris DeSmet)

6

Hypothesis (Beth Themmes)

Theoretical Construct (Kris DeSmet)

Assumptions (Beth Themmes)

Limitations (Kris DeSmet)

Terms (Kris DeSmet and Beth Themmes)

Part I1

Methods

Designs and Procedures (Kris DeSmet & Beth Themmes)

Designs and Procedures (Kris DeSmet & Beth Themmes)

Ethical Issues and Concerns (Kris DeSmet & Beth Themmes)

Ethical Issues and Concerns (Kris DeSmet & Beth Themmes)

Evaluation (Kris DeSmet & Beth Themmes)

Implications of Research (Kris DeSmet)

Part III

Exemplary Literature Review (Beth Thernrnes)

Exemplary Literature Review (Kris DeSmet)

Bibliography (Beth Themes)

Bibliography (Kris DeSmet)

PART I

Communication Topic and Problem

The topic of this study is the effort of prenatal communication on post-natal language

acquisition. Recently, a lot of focus has been placed on the areas of learning disabled children.

A study such as we propose has great implications. It is supposed that some language

deficiencies and communication problems may be curbed with the use of prenatal

communication techniques. A similar pilot study to the one we propose was published in 1991

by Brent Logan, Ph.D. What is lacking, however, is a comprehensive study on the effects of

prenatal communication between mother and fetus after birth, specifically in speech

development.

Rationale

Language acquisition is a communication topic that has been widely researched. Jean

Piaget, a widely respected psycholinguist, is one theorist who spent his entire career researching

a variety of child development issues. Piaget wrote many articles and books on the role of

language in cognitive development and the relationship between language and intellectual

operations. Piaget wrote, "It is obvious, in the first place, that certain hereditary factors condition

intellectual development (1952, p. 1); however, he also stated that, "

at

every level, experience

is necessary to the development of intelligence (1952, p. 362). Therefore, it could be said that

while genetics play a role in language development and intelligence, a child's experience with

language will also enhance his intelligence.

According to Piaget, there are many levels of development a child goes through from

birth to adulthood. The period that relates to the subjects of this study is the "sensori-motor"

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mechanisms for speech proper in the second year. Second, in the peridd of infancy children

develop formats of interaction with their caregivers that facilitate the learning of language and its

communicative use. Third, and critically, in infancy children develop the symbolic capacity,

which is a prerequisite for the acquisition of language" (1984, p. 245). Anisfeld states that

language development begins at birth, but we believe that it may begin even sooner in utero.

In Language Development. an Introduction, Robert E. Owens, Jr. describes the fetus'

ability to hear sounds in the womb. "One example of the neonate's predisposition to speech is

her movements in relation to speech patterns. Undoubtedly, the newborn has been exposed in

utero to sounds, such as the mother's heartbeat and digestive sounds. She has also been hearing

her mother's voice and experiencing the rhythmic movements that accompany her mother's

speech" (1992, p. 171).

There are several issues brought up in the above research that are relevant to the need to

research whether or not a mother's communication with her fetus will affect her child's language

acquisition. If a mother can assist her child in acquiring language skills by speaking or reading

to the fetus on a regular basis, it is possible that the mother and child will bond more effectively,

the child will be more intelligent, and may speak earlier than the average child.

Background

The area of prenatal learning is relatively new. The pioneers of prenatal learning were

Sontag and Newbery. Their study in 1940 involved one pregnant woman and the stimulus of a

loud noise. They produced a sudden sound near her abdomen which produced a change in fetal

heartbeat and increased movement. Repetition of the same noise produced a conditioned

response by the fetus; it adapted to the noise and no long reacted to it.

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Prenatal studies have come a long way since then. More and more researkh shows the
Prenatal studies have come a long way since then. More and more researkh shows the

Prenatal studies have come a long way since then. More and more researkh shows the

potential of the unborn child. It is medical fact that a fetus develops its embryonic nervous

system just days after conception and physically develops responsive hearing as early as four and

half months after conception. Logan (1991) reported seeing one of his fetal subjects, via an

ultrasound device, timing its respirations to a prerecorded set of simulated heartbeats and eight

other subjects could be seen moving their head to the source of the sound. From the sixth to

eighth months after conception, the fetus develops memory templates. A study done by

DeCasper & Spence (1986) showed that infants responded more favorably to a target passage

which was read most often by its mother during the prenatal period than a novel passage that was

read least often or read by someone else. This study provides evidence that fetal memories and

learned responses in the womb are represented after birth in some form of behavior. What the

infant does remember are the rhythms fiom the mother's heartbeat and particular frequencies of

sound heard prenatally.

There is evidence that the mother's role pre- and post-natally is highly influential to the

speech development of their child. Newborns have shown to "

prefer

their own mothers' voice

to those of other females, female voices to male voices, and intrauterine heartbeat sounds to male

voices, but they do not prefer their fathers' voices to those of other males" (DeCasper & Spence,

1986, p. 5). A fetus hears these voices through extensive intrauterine noises such as the

heartbeat, digestion, natural movement of fluids within the mother and the amounts of maternal

tissue surrounding the fetus. These noises inhibit the fetus fiom hearing external sounds such as

a father's male voice.

Research indicates that infants tend to respond favorably to sound heard

similar to those heard while in utero.

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Our proposed study intends to focus on answering the above questions through

comprehensive research.

Objectives

The objectives we seek to meet in this study are as follows:

O Create interest in an otherwise skeptical field.

Retest the findings of the second phase of Project Prelearn.follows: O Create interest in an otherwise skeptical field. Provide evidence that prenatal communication can be

Provide evidence that prenatal communication can be an effective means toRetest the findings of the second phase of Project Prelearn. studying language outcomes and that others

studying language outcomes and that others may use that evidence in other diverse areas

of study on human communication.

Provide evidence of the mother's importance to the outcomes of her child'sin other diverse areas of study on human communication. development. Solidifj results by studying the effects

development.

Solidifj results by studying the effects of prenatal communication through the post-natal results by studying the effects of prenatal communication through the post-natal

age of two to give credence to extending the study into years beyond toddler age.

Show credible evidence that prenatal communicationexercises can possibly be used toto extending the study into years beyond toddler age. reduce or eliminate post-natal speech deficiencies (i.e.

reduce or eliminate post-natal speech deficiencies (i.e. communication apprehension)

without the controversial use of gene therapy.

Recognize the mother's influence on the fetus. apprehension) without the controversial use of gene therapy. Prove there is reasonable ground to conduct a

Prove there is reasonable ground to conduct a comprehensive study on language

outcomes of prenatal stimulation.

Our proposed study intends to focus on meeting the above objectives through

comprehensiveresearch.

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Hypothesis

Past research shows that mothers greatly influence their children's language acquisition

by speaking, reading and singing to their children before they are born. Our study intends to

prove that mothers who speak, read and sing to their children prenatally have children who

acquire language earlier than children who do not receive the same stimulation.

Theoretical Construct

Speech is rooted in the development of sentence structure. The first vocal utterances

made upon birth are believed to be influenced by prenatal auditory stimulation. It is the study of

how we come to eventually make a sentence that we believe is relevant to our research proposal.

Therefore, we believe that structural and generative linguistics theory is quite pertinent to this

proposal.

Structural linguistics is one model relevant to this research proposal. It is a multi-level

hierarchical approach to explaining the construction of sentences, much better identified as an

utterance of sound or baby talk. Consonant and vowel phonemes are a combination of

morphemes which create a single syllable. Used in combination with each other, they

eventually leads to the formation of words. A pilot study identified as Project Prelearn has

published its findings on the effects of prenatal auditory stimulation on post-birth infant language

development. One of the outcomes of this study showed that upon passing the birth canal,

" lo
"
lo

newborns instantly started cooing, eight babbled. The third stage in

epigenetic vocalization, 'ah-goo,' was achieved by 10 babies, with a more

complex linguistic variation, 'aha,' featured once; an indiscriminate 'mama' (not

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directed at the mother) was clearly uttered three times by one rieonate

the mother) was clearly uttered three times by one rieonate " (Logan, The utterances that Logan
"
"

(Logan,

The utterances that Logan (1991) describes could be easily categorized as morphemes

and phonemes, the links to more complex language components such as consonant and vowel

distinction. Structural language theories then say that the creation of words from morphemes and

phonemes lead to the development of phrases. These phrases, in turn, create clauses and then

sentences.

Developed by Chomsky, generative grammar also has its place in our study. Structural

linguistics explains sentence pattern, patterns which are used in speech. However, it does not

explain the innate and intuitive nature of language acquisition. We suppose that prenatal

stimulation influences the mental foundation of speech. But how do infants know how to make

that utterance? Chomsky's four elements of generative grammar are usehl in explaining this

process: deep structures, phrase-structure rules, transformational rules and surface structure. He

describes deep structure as a mental sentence structure that all humans innately possess. In a

related paper discussing the auditory stimulation methods developed by Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis,

Gilmor (1989) comments that the voice of the mother, "

imprints

upon the fetus' nervous

system the structure and rhythm of the language the mother is speaking" (p. 19).

Listening to the mother's voice is the infant's stimulus to learning language. Tomatis

found that the absence or reduction of the mother's voice during the first days, weeks and months

after birth can cause language problems in infants, such as pathological communication

apprehension, well into their toddler years. Thus, the mother's participation, through reading and

talking to their unborn child, is an important bridge to post-natal language development.

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More in detail, deep structure is developed through phrase-structure rules and modified

by transformational rules (i.e. passive, active and tenses of language). These structures and rules

in process, develop a surface structure which is the actual utterance of a word, a sense of speech.

It is this utterance of a word that connects structural linguistics to generative theory.

Assumptions

There are many assumptions related to the idea that a mother has a role prenatally in her

child's language acquisition. The first assumption is that a mother can communicate with her

child while it is still in her womb. While some research has been done on a fetus's ability to hear

in the womb, we don't know what kind of effect it has on the child.

The second assumption is that the findings of the second phase of Project Prelearn, which

we intend to duplicate to a certain degree, were accurate. In addition, we assume that the method

of research is adequate and comprehensive enough to apply to our study.

The third assumption is that our study will be generally accepted by professionals in

fields associated with language acquisition. Also, we assume that the findings of our study will

be relevant to these professionals.

The fourth assumption is that we will be able to provide solid evidence that prenatal

communication exercises may be used to possibly eliminate future communication problems

such as communicationapprehension.

The fifth assumption is that there is an interest in this field of study.

The sixth and final assumption is that as communication authorities, we value our ability

to communicate and speak effectively and would have liked to have learned how to do so at a

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younger age. We hope that there is a way to teach children to speak competently at a younger

age in order to help alleviate some communication problems.

Limitations

Despite all sorts of studies, genetics does provide a natural limitation to our study.

People are genuinely predisposed to certain physical deficiencies or efficiencies by virtue of their

genetic makeup which can create i

nite outcomes. Caution will have to be taken in interpreting

the results to determine whether the outcome is coming fkom the actual stimulus, a person's

genetics or a combination of both. We can predict within reasonable certainty that the findings

are linked to the stimulus. Furthermore, if the extended study is granted, latent genetic problems

may become a factor and skew the earlier results.

Environmental factors also limit the outcomes of our study. Environmental factors, such

the air the subjects breathe or the quality of the water they drink, are not controllable but greatly

nfi

impact the health of the mother and the fetus. Abnormalities found due to such environmental

factors have been known to cause problems to infants in all sorts of developmental areas. It is

unsure as to what extent this may or may not impact the area of speech development. Again, we

may predict with reasonable certainty that the findings would be linked to the stimulus.

The goals and objectives as outlined are limited by the amount of research available. The

objectives were created fkom the obvious lack of information on our topic. Recent research, that

spanning ten years or less, is difficult to obtain. Older studies and research have been completed

but are outdated. The few current studies uncovered in our process are of good substance.

However, the lack of studies, in itself, also limits our proposal to the information we can provide

but gives credence to the importance of going forward with our proposal for further research.

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The theoretical construct was limited to communication as it relates to speech. We do not

ignore the fact that theories related to message production and reception are relevant to our topic.

We believe that speech communication theories better shape this proposal. Before a message can

be sent or received, sentences must be put together and, consequently, verbalized. Before

verbalization takes place, generative grammar theory provides an explanation of the innate

processes that imply capabilities for language from birth.

Terms

communicationapprehension - a fear of speaking.

epigenetic vocalization - vocalization after birth

language acquisition - refers specifically to speaking

neonatal - newborn

neurological memory - a fetus of six months develops a central nervous system where it is

capable of receiving, encoding and processing messages

novel story - the second control variable in a study done by DeCasper and Spense; it is the story

read least often to the fetuses of the experiment

phoneme - one of the smallest unit of speech that distinguish one utterance or word from another

prenatal - the period of pregnancy from conception to birth

pressure transducer - a device used to transmit and record external pressure; for the purpose of

this study, this is inserted into a nipple to record sucking patterns of infants

target story - the control variable in a study done by DeCasper and Spence; it is a story read most

often to the fetuses of the experiment

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stimulation. These are broad categories of development and we expect to see changes in

language acquisition according to Piaget's developmental stages. Piaget's developmental stages,

specifically the sensor-motor period, will be used as a guideline to assist in the evaluation of the

subjects.

Implications of Research

This will be an important study in the area of prenatal language acquisition and the

implications are wide ranging. Ultimately, we believe that a lifelong comprehensive study

should be done. 'Baby steps' have been taken thus far and something bigger must happen to

make an impact in this field -- to make people believe. It must be strengthened. Prenatal

communication in relation to language acquisition can make a big impact in the scientific

community as we know it and there are studies that attest to this fact. The information obtained

fiom a longitudinal study may spark other ways to enhance a fetus' life before birth.

How else can one positively enhance the development of a human being without the use

of genetic splicing or other alteration of some kind. Language acquisition and developmental

problems in children have a real possibility of being eliminated with the use of prenatal

communication. We believe that in the future, prenatal communication will be made just as

important to a fetus' development as physical health recommendations made by a physician.

Studies have proven over and over that it provides children an extra tool to learning. It evokes

increased self-esteem as they can articulate words earlier and enter grade school with higher than

average language abilities. It is, in fact, setting them up for success.

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