Voulez-vous jouer avec moi? Twelve-month-olds understand that foreign languages can communicate

Athena Vouloumanos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Infants understand that speech in their native language allows speakers to communicate. Is this understanding limited to their native language or does it extend to non-native languages with which infants have no experience? Twelve-month-old infants saw an actor, the Communicator, repeatedly select one of two objects. When the Communicator could no longer reach the target but a Recipient could, the Communicator vocalized a nonsense phrase either in English (infants’ native language), Spanish (rhythmically different), or Russian (phonotactically different), or hummed (a non-speech vocalization). Across all three languages, native and non-native, but not humming, infants looked longer when the Recipient gave the Communicator the non-target object. Although, by 12 months, infants do not readily map non-native words to objects or discriminate most non-native speech contrasts, they understand that non-native languages can transfer information to others. Understanding language as a tool for communication extends beyond infants’ native language: By 12 months, infants view language as a universal mechanism for transferring and acquiring new information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Communication
  • Infant cognitive development
  • Language acquisition
  • Non-native language
  • Speech perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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