Úna Clancy’s research area is prenatal language acquisition.  This PhD research investigates the influence that the maternal voice has on the developing fetus in terms of language development. The aim is to test whether the baby is already familiarising themselves with the sounds of language while in utero.

An experiment has been designed using the High Amplitude Sucking Procedure (HASP) wherein infants learn the contingence between their sucking pattern and sound presentation. It aims to test whether infants will adjust their sucking rate to produce speech heard previously only in utero. The hypothesis being tested is that neonates will adjust their suck rate in order to hear previously heard (in utero) maternal speech over that of novel maternal speech.

Before gaining access to the target population of expectant mothers and newborns, an in-depth ethics application was prepared for the HSE ethics committee. Approval was granted in the summer of 2016 and so began the process of liaising with the gatekeepers at the University Maternity Hospital Limerick. This was an exercise in patience and perseverance. Over the course of a year, this relationship was established and support for the research flourished within the target community.

Participants were recruited from the Limerick Maternity’s antenatal classes under the project title ‘Are Baby Bumps Listening?’. Úna attended antenatal classes where she presented to groups of expectant mothers and opened the call to participate. Participating mums-to-be began reciting a short fairy tale daily to their bump from the second trimester all the way through the pregnancy while keeping a logbook. A task which, happily, many report as being an enjoyable ‘bonding time’ between mother and child.

At the time of writing data collection is well underway using specialised equipment and a computer programme to carry out the High Amplitude Sucking Procedure, both designed in UL by Dr. Mikael Fernström (CSIS), who is part of the supervision panel along with Dr. Peter Murphy (S&E) and Dr. Máiréad Moriarty (MLAL).

Úna recently presented her research as a “3 Minute Thesis” presentation at the International Research Methods Summer School 2017 (IRMSS) in Mary Immaculate College and won first place. She would like to thank her supervisors, all those at the Maternity, and her participants, especially the little ones!

Úna’s research and fieldwork has been funded by the School of Modern Languages and Applied Linguistics and the AHSS faculty.

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