Recent research with fetus’s and newborns show that babies can hear and appear to be processing information even before they are born. This isn’t to say that we as adults can relate to their state of mind, I’m sure it is a very altered state of consciousness relative to our own. But they can hear mom talking (but not wispering) and can tell the difference between repeated words and repeated similar words, eg. babi vs bibi. The use heart rate monitoring and statistics to determine that the baby is reacting to what it hears and statistics to verify that this isn’t just random heart rate changes. So assume the science is good and while not a fully developed consciousness, that there is something there. Something worth… talking to. So how about English?
The Experience of Lipreading
I got a book on lipreading a long time ago. I wanted to read lips of people in a restaurant across the room as an amateur spy. It turns out lipreading doesn’t work– too many phonomes are unreadable. Imagine you had to read, but 1/2 of the alphabet is gone and 1/4 of the remaining letters have been replaced randomly with similar letters. Reading would nearly fall apart. In the lipreading world, lipreading doesn’t work very well unless you add manual prompting, which is an interesting communication system, but like all fake languages, it’s hard to build a community of users (I saw a vid where a whole class of hearing kids learned manual prompting to communicate with a hard of hearing classmate). Anyhow. I suspect English probably isn’t getting through so well.
What sounds do get through?
Frankly I have no idea. A good fetal conlang would rely on only the sounds that travel well from a mother’s vocal cords to her baby in womb. I suppose I could do some research by sticking by head underwater and then getting someone to go through all the phoneme they known and I’d record which ones I hear, thereby forming the phonotactics of a fetal conlang.
Conculture as applied to Wombs
This is small “c” conculture. No elves or maps in wombs, sorry. So the infant is in a world where there is no shapes (not enough light). There is temperature, sound, motion, orientation, the motions of the fetus. That is the whole world and all a fetus can be expected to talk about. This is a toki pona like restriction in semantic domains. There isn’t a word for eating, because the fetus doesn’t eat. It does drink though. It also has some similarities to xeno languages, those languages where you communicate with space aliens using radio signals and the communication system can’t rely on a lot of common context because we don’t even know if words like “arm” or “walking” makes sense to them (maybe they are a sessile, leafy alien, and wouldn’t exactly understand “to welcome with open arms”)
Babies have hit a milestone when they can do two word sentence. So far, only bonobo chimps seems to have mastered combining 2 words according to rules and that is with several hundred (1000s?) of hours of training. Also, some creoles are reputed to have gone through a phase of having only intransitives, i.e. sentences with only 2 core participants and all others are oblique. So it seems natural that the syntax of a fetal language should be N + Vi (or Vi + N)
And will this create superbabies? Of course it will, don’t be silly. My baby is going to be top of the class in pre-school.