Be careful what you say in front of your infant. He or she may understand a lot more than we thought.

Nrw research at the University of Pennsylvania seems to indicate that infants as young as 6 to 9 months learn certain words - usually words for food or body parts - well before they're able to say them. Coventional wisdom on the subject says that babies don't understand specific words until they reach one year of age.

The study had 6-to-9-month-old infants look at pictures of certain foods or body parts. Then the babies weere instructed by their parents to look at a specific item. Throughout the testing, the infants looked more at the item named than any other place in the images. This, they theorize, shows that babies know what certain words mean.

Earlier studies speculated that infants knew the meaning of specific things, like 'mommy' or 'daddy'.But this test used more general terms, like 'apple' or 'nose'. The researchers noted that there is some variety in apples or noses, and that the word 'nose' could refer to anybody's nose, not just that of the child or a parent.

The study also speculates that infants learn some items in the 6 to 9 month of age window, then seem to slow down new learning of words until around the age of 14 months. They had no explanation for this phenomenon.

Study co-author Daniel Swingley notes, "You can talk to your babies and they're going to understand a bit of what you're saying...And the more they know, the more they can build on what they know."

[HealthDay.com, via Yahoo! News]