A new study says that infants at seven to nine months are able to make sense of a world in motion and slice up the flow of events, even before they start to speak.
And the researchers believe they've identified the way that babies accomplish this feat.
Infants use "statistical learning"- they compute the likelihood that one event follows another and use that information to predict future events, said Sarah Roseberry, a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington.
Based on these probabilities, infants find boundaries between events, a critical step for learning words.
According to Roseberry, their work adds to a growing understanding of the earliest building blocks of language.
"Although these babies were between just 7 and 9 months of age, they were already dividing the world into events using the 'tool' of statistical learning.
"It is these events that will be named with words. A few months later, when they can hook up words to the events they see, they will begin to use language," she concluded.
The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.