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I am making a reincarnation novel with all of the protagonist's memories intact from the previous life. So what is the time when the protagonist can actually communicate through speaking?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm guessing that you're asking about humans, so added that tag. $\endgroup$ – user May 27 '18 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ I know this question is old, still I want to point out that such things like the time needed for learning a new skill are all experience based. Since we have no experience with that scenario, we simply don't know $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 13 '18 at 8:17
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There was a story recently about a man who'd had an injury, stroke or similar and needed to learn to walk and talk again, just as his partner had a baby. Hopefully someone can find it as his recovery time is effectively the answer.

Even though he had the knowledge of these activities, he still needed to go through the same motions, lying on his back and watching the limbs as he attempted movement, making strange noises as he relearned how to control his vocal chords. In doing so it's said he reduced his recovery time below that of people who get frustrated by their inability to pronounce fully formed words for a considerable period.

It's not just about learning the words, it's about making the connections between the brain and the peripherals and learning how to control them, and building up the muscle strength and control to the level of finesse required for speech.

If this is his first time reincarnating, it may be no quicker than the average baby. If he is an experienced reincarnater then perhaps he has a set of exercises down pat to accelerate effective use of vocal chords and other muscle groups.

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    $\begingroup$ The problem may be "memories". If part of memories is muscle memory then the reincarnator might have problems as his brain tries to tell new baby muscles to do things they can't. Maybe this would even cause potentially serious medical issues. $\endgroup$ – StephenG May 27 '18 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG As far as I understand it, muscle memory is entirely physical. The nervous system has built up in a specific way for specific processes to be done more efficiently because of frequent repetition. New body, new nervous system, no muscle memory. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Mar 5 '20 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ @TitaniumTurtle It would be useful if you could cite a link or paper on that. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Mar 5 '20 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @StephenG Quick google search started directing me to dozens of workout pages, but the Wikipedia page on muscle memory seems to indicate that part of muscle memory is the actual growth of muscles to facilitate the action. That said, most of the scientific studies on muscle memory seem to focus on how the brain grows neural pathways, which still supports the point depending on how much justification you want to give to reincarnation. Technically to retain memories the brain would have to basically grow into an exact copy of the original, which is of course impossible for a small baby's head. $\endgroup$ – TitaniumTurtle Mar 5 '20 at 22:41
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It's around three months.

At birth the human larynx is in the normal, animal location, enabling babies to nurse without risk of choking. The larynx typically begins to move lower at about three months of age and reaches its final position by age four. People familiar with children’s speech will notice that the start of the relocation is also when infants start to coo. The end is about the time the children finally become clearly intelligible to well-meaning strangers.

The relocation of the larynx is primarily evolved to support our need for speech. Complex speech patterns require the valve to select between breathing air and eating food to occur lower than it does in other animals. The result is that it is much easier for us to choke on food until we get the hang of controlling this valve. Infants have a high larynx so that they can nurse without choking. As they get older, and gain more control, the larynx descends to start providing us access to the full repertoire of the human voice.

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I don't see what is their difference with normal child therefore I think it would all go along the usual language acquisition period. The brain and muscles have to develop enough to be able to articulate the sounds.

there is a "sensitive period" of language acquisition in which human infants have the ability to learn any language. Several findings have observed that from birth until the age of six months, infants can discriminate the phonetic contrasts of all languages. [...]

At a very young age, children can already distinguish between different sounds but cannot produce them yet. However, during infancy, children begin to babble. Deaf babies babble in the same order when hearing sounds as non-deaf babies do, thus showing that babbling is not caused by babies simply imitating certain sounds, but is actually a natural part of the process of language development. However, deaf babies do often babble less than non-deaf babies and they begin to babble later on in infancy (begin babbling at 11 months as compared to 6 months) when compared to non-deaf babies.

I think it would start from about 1 year onward.

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You're asking about radically different things.

Age to communicate via the vocal cords? Zero.

All (normally developing) neonates can communicate via the vocal cords. Screaming, etc. Initially, there is basically one word: FIX-ME!!

As infants develop, they quickly are able to differentiate their screams/vocalizations. Some do this more than others and of course it's dependent on how well caregivers pick it up. One cry can mean "I'm hungry," another "I'm wet/need to pee," another "I need to be held."

Age to articulate spoken words such that they are understandable by others? 4-6 months (though for most children, it's 11-13 months).

This is fairly rudimentary and it depends both on the word and the listener. Most infants do not have the cognitive skills to really create language here. For them, these articulations are practice sounds. Even deaf children do it to some extent.

While it's not super common, infants can have real spoken words in this period. My own daughter had her first spoken word "all done" (yes, that counts as one word) at 5 months. My husband heard it from the other room and yelled "did she just say 'I'm done'?" Naturally, people didn't believe us. Until they heard her say that and other things themselves, then they all believed it.

Age to communicate using symbolic language? Very young.

What do I mean here? I mean actual words in an actual language. But spoken words need some time due to maturation of the vocal tract. So the words come from sign language. Note: if a caregiver teaches a child a made-up or wrong sign (something no local signer would ever use, or one that is misarticulated), and the child uses that, it still counts as a word, the same way teaching a child a made-up spoken word does; output comes from input).

Since I have a background with sign language (including teaching it to special needs students), I had already planned to teach it to my baby. But it turned out that "baby sign language" was a huge fad when my daughter was born (maybe it still is). I refused to use the made-up words but instead used American Sign Language (ASL) adapted for the developmental level of her finger articulation. I only used single words and no grammar.

And this is where I lament the fact that I didn't own a video camera (smartphones didn't exist yet but I could have bought video and I was stupid not to). Because no one hearing this story believes me (even seeing the still pictures). But dozens of people who saw it in action were instant converts and babysitters could interpret her needs via signs.

My daughter started learning a couple signs at 2 weeks. By 2-3 months, she had a vocabulary of several words, quickly growing to maybe a dozen (I took careful field notes but am doing this from memory). One of her common words was "all done" which she used while peeing/etc either on the toilet (after she could sit up and with a special seat and adult help) or being held over the sink. This is the word that morphed into her first spoken word (she said it while she signed it, something we modeled to her). (Our experiences with this were filmed for a documentary about Elimination Communication but were cut from the final version, though I have a copy somewhere.)

Age to have actual conversations? At least 1, up to 3 or 4.

This varies by child a lot. I know a lot of children who could simply not sustain a back and forth conversation until they were 3 or 4. After that, they were fine. A lot of kids can do it at age 2 and many can do it earlier. For my child, we were having fairly complex conversations at 18 months (I remember in particular because one of our cats died then and she was asking about the afterlife, talking about seeing his ghost, and all sorts of things to freak parents out).

What about memory?

The memory issue is completely separate. While there are stories of people who can remember things from birth or infancy, it's hard to know what is true. Memories fade from young children.

Using my daughter as an example again, she had a terrific memory when she was very young. She could remember things from 18 months when she was 2, for example. But then it all faded. She lost all her sign language very early, by age 2, because we stopped using it with her (no need). Starting about age 6 (or so), she stopped remembering a lot of things she had known, even things she knew continuously. There is a veil that goes over early childhood, perhaps as a consequence of brain development. My daughter is 13 now and remembers kindergarten well, and a trauma that happened at age 4, plus a few things from earlier. But pretty much all her memories from birth through at least age 3 are completely wiped out.


My background: I have a B.S. in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology with a minor in Linguistics and a masters degree in Communication. My specialty was language development. I worked for a short time as a special ed teacher. Have not done this stuff in decades though.

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An adult's soul trapped in an infant body? In this realm of imaginate, it is possible that the personality of the adult, possessing all knowledge and emotions of its previous life, will push harder the body to respond and develop adequate brain capacities. You will probably have a funny-talking, well-learnt 5 y.o.

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The idea of a child being reincarnated with vivid memories of their previous life is not only not that far-fetched, it isn't even fictional. There are lots of real-life stories of exactly this. These children, usually toddlers, have demonstrated intimate first-person knowledge of someone else's life. One child's vivid nightmares actually solved a murder case that had long gone cold.

These all follow a rough pattern: the child starts discussing these memories at around one-and-a-half, the age when a child is first able to put words together into rudimentary ideas, and the memories fade by age four or so as new ones take their place. The reason they don't discuss them as an infant is that simply having the memories is not enough; an infant's brain just doesn't have the ability to move the right muscles in the right way to form words.

(One reason for this is that the neurons in a baby's brain have not yet developed a sufficient myelin sheath, which is a fatty coating that insulates it from the neurons around it. Without that, the electric charge surging through a neuron when it fires also triggers all the ones around it; which is why a baby's movements are so sporadic.)

If you could somehow implant an adult brain into an infant's skull, shrinking it down to fit, theoretically he or she could start talking within a few days (after recovering from birthing shock); all the moving pieces are there, they just need to grow. But barring that, you're basically looking at the same developmental timeline that all children go through, which is that they start forming words at about a year old and basic sentences at about two.

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I have seen an instance of a child verbalizing in recognizable words and phrases at 6 to 8 months. However, I have seen several children who can do that in the 12 to 15 month time frame. However, this was not on the order of the fluency of talk show material. It was recognizable thoughts beyond "Ma" or "Dada."

This is just a couple of subjective singular data points.

While I am a scientist, I am not a medical or developmental scientist. You might ask someone mainstream in the field, like a speech pathologist who has an interest in very early speech development.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm a year and half late to the party, but this answer assumes the baby has the competence to understand language, having used it profusely before becoming a baby. Ordinary children have to acquire the vocabulary and phonetics/semanthics of language. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Mar 9 '20 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ There is substantial peer reviewed literature showing that most children understand the basic sounds of their native language by the age of 6 months. Given developmental variability, some can be expected to develop those skills younger or older than the mean. $\endgroup$ – mongo Mar 9 '20 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for answering. The question however, assumes the baby was born with full proficiency and vocabulary along with a lifetime of speaking memories from the past life. Instead of six months to acquire the basic understanding, he is going hot from day zero. Your strict point of view is still invaluable, I upvoted. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Mar 9 '20 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ If that is the case, I would expect verbalization at 2 months or so, as the anatomical development is present. $\endgroup$ – mongo Mar 9 '20 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ Appreciated. Could you update your answer? I know the others also placed it at 2 or 3 months but I believe you could explain it with more depth. I am grateful you took your time to reply. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Mar 10 '20 at 12:32
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Nothing is Instantaneous

The ability to speak and understand develop first, taking such months as they may. In rapidly developing babies, maybe 4 months. In some other children, typically a year to slightly older. Some children never develop speech.

As speech and understanding develop, the brain is forming symbolic connections between words, These connections are the basis of forming rational connections between ideas, and for organizing the sensory inputs into memory. As they develop, the reincarnated person's memories have a way to connect with the developing baby brain.

The reincarnated memories help to shape the baby's brain, and development occurs more rapidly than with a novel baby of the first incarnation, but the fundamental framework in the brain must first exist.

And, Surprise, "Things Go Wrong"®

In fact, one failure case in which reincarnation fails is when the balance between the baby's neural capacity and the enhancement from the reincarnate are out of sync. If the baby develops faster than the reincarnate, it builds an independent awareness and personality that creates difficulties for the reincarnate. If the baby develops too slowly for the pressure of the reincarnate, the memories can be badly forms and jumbled.

There exist cultural mechanisms for identifying and intervening in these cases, and there have been spectacular failures. Every part of the culture of child-rearing is touched by this awareness. Grandmother's stories abound. Tragedy and Comedy plays use this as central plot points.

No Disembodied Brains

Because of this mutually enabled development, there is no case where a fully aware reincarnated person inhabits a baby body with no ability to communicate. The reincarnate's awareness grows with the baby's brain and capacity. The reincarnate is not fully possessed of their former capacities until the baby's brain as fully developed, which, even with the aid of the reincarnate to catalyze development, is typically around age six.

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Story assumptions:
Since the memories -- which would include cognitive knowledge of language & the ability to use it -- are transferred intact from former body to present body, the answer is actually very young indeed. So young, in fact, that the protagonist won't actually be able to talk for several months.

Scientific assumptions:

Conclusion:
Your protagonist, with her memories & personhood intact, will know how to speak, that is, have the cognitive capacity for speech, the instant her new body is conceived (Day 1). But we're a little ahead of ourselves! She will theoretically be able to speak, that is, have the cognitive & physiological capacity to speak, before about three months of actual age. She won't be able to actually talk, however, until birth, when her chest expands and the fluid filled lungs are first inflated.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't mean to be a pain in the ass, but, the asker indicated "his vocal cords" in the question title and you used "her" pronouns. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Mar 5 '20 at 21:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Muuski - No worries. I'm sure the OP won't suffer from any confusion. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Mar 5 '20 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ @muuski Nobody will. In fact, some editorial (notably AD&D 2nd edition) choices assume the female gender for the noun character. Let's avoid nitpicking unconsequential details. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Mar 6 '20 at 12:39

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