Infant intelligence

Weikum's study adds to mounting evidence showing how infants move from being "universal perceivers," equally capable of learning any of the world's languages, to being specialists in the sounds, meanings and structure of their own native tongue over the first year of life, said Hollich, who studies infant language.

The findings raise questions about what is meant by intelligence when speaking of young children.

"Newborns can be said to be 'intelligent' in that they have the ability to almost effortlessly learn any of the world's languages," Hollich told LiveScience. Some of Hollich's research shows that babies start to understand grammar by the age of 15 months, processing grammar and words simultaneously.

"We scientists consider infants more intelligent when they begin to notice and respond to familiar things. Of course, figuring out how exactly to best respond to familiar sights and sounds is something children will spend the rest of their lives learning to do and that is the hallmark of what most would consider true 'intelligence.'"

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