Melissa Locker
November 14, 2018
Jessica Peterson/Getty Images

Don’t be too surprised if your baby’s first words are, “Roll Tide” (unless your husband went to the University of Florida, of course).  A recent study finds that for better or worse, fathers, and not mothers, are the ones who pass along their vocabulary to children.

That doesn’t mean that mothers are out of the language-learning picture, of course. According to the study, which was led by Menghan Zhang at the University of Fudan, while we learn pronunciation and sound from our mothers, we actually acquire our vocabulary from our fathers — a finding which completely contradicts ideas we'd previously held about language acquisition.

It’s a bit complicated—there’s a reason not all of us are scientists, right?—but the gist of it is this: the team looked at 34 populations  and looked at how infants learned language. But instead of focusing on the whole process of language learning, they broke it down into two distinct parts—vocabulary and sound. The researchers then fashioned a test that determined which parent taught the kiddo which part of the language.

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Earlier work had determined that moms were the ones who really taught kids to speak a language, which makes sense as moms tend to spend more time with infants. Because scientists seem like nothing more than a good disagreement, another study came out claiming that it was in fact dear old dad who taught the kiddo how to speak the native tongue.

This new study, though, finds that both parents have an influence on teaching children languages—but they each influence different areas of language. The researchers concluded that there were strong ties between paternal genes and words and equally strong ties between maternal genes and how we hear those words. Fathers teach children vocabulary, while mothers teach children how to hear, pronounce, and use those words in the proper context, even teaching babies about the way words sound while the child is still in the womb.

So, there you have it, dad can teach the kid to say Roll Tide and mom can explain that it’s best used at tailgating functions and never, ever, at a Gators game.