Is language acquistion an innate function of the brain? This is a favourite question among psychologists and boils down to: do humans have specific ‘circuitry’ built into their brains to learn language? Or alternatively is it something that as our brains are so big, we can do in the same way as the other skills that we pick up? Many psychologists are now happy to agree that there are some parts of the brain that are specialised for language acquisition, the question is over the degree and the mechanism.
Imagine how much we could learn about language acquisition if we could watch a language developing in real time instead of picking apart its history centuries or millenia after the event. Imagine no longer. Deaf Nicaraguan children have, over the last 15 years, developed a sign language from scratch. Not only does it follow basic rules that are common to all language but as the language was passed down to the next generation it clearly evolved in complexity. This strongly supports the innatist viewpoint.
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Published: 17 September 2004