• Question: Where does language come from?

    Asked by hectorcito2 on 6 Jun 2018.
    • Photo: Nathan Clarke

      Nathan Clarke answered on 6 Jun 2018:

      This is a great question. In babies, language comes from the observation of adults and practise. Most scientists think that humans are ‘hard-wired’ to learn the language, some think that we learn it because we’re good at learning everything. When babies ‘babble’, they are practising making the sounds that form speech. The success of this practice depends on how well they can hear the sounds. People who are born with profound hearing impairments cannot hear this practise and may develop a characteristic way of speaking that sounds a little different to usual.

    • Photo: Ashley Akbari

      Ashley Akbari answered on 7 Jun 2018:

      Nathan with a great answer – in addition you will find regional dialects and different languages having formed over time in geographical areas across the world based – but once again this is still speech transmitted from a parent to a child within a distinct region.

    • Photo: Laura Hemming

      Laura Hemming answered on 10 Jun 2018:

      Just to add to Nathan’s answer, there’s evidence that if babies aren’t exposed to other people talking at a ‘critical’ age (up to about 13years of age) then it may not be possible for them acquire language at all later on in life. Check out the case study of Genie below – she was a ‘feral’ child in America that suffered severe abuse as a child, being locked away without any human contact which meant that she was not exposed to language in any format, until she was rescued at the age of about 13 years old. This got scientists wondering whether it was possible or not for her to develop language at such a late stage in life.

    • Photo: Lauren Burns

      Lauren Burns answered on 13 Jun 2018:

      I love language, it is a really interesting topic! There are two key areas of the brain for language; Wernicke’s Area (the ‘understanding’/’input’ system for language), and Broca’s Area (the ‘production’ part for language). As my colleagues have mentioned, when we are really young, we try to mimic our parents/people in our surroundings to understand how to communicate. However, this gets even more complicated because you repeat the sounds you hear, when you are young you are able to stretch those vocal chords to mimic those sounds really well. But, as you get older, we lose this ability. That is why even if we go to another country knowing the language, we will still speak their language with an accent, because we were not brought up using sounds in the same way. Extreme examples are the Khoisan Click Language – if we are not brought up ‘clicking’ in our speech, we find it incredibly hard to imitate (and actually make sense!). Or even less extreme, us Welshies tend to roll our ‘r’s’, which some people find it difficult to do in a sentence.