Dictionary of Human Evolution and Biology

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Language Acquisition

Process by which an individual gains language skills including spoken words, grammar, and nonverbal forms of communication. In humans this is a natural process and the particular language learned is based on the language(s) of individuals around the infant; however, the capacity to learn human language is a biological characteristic of our species, although there has been little research demonstrating what factors (endocrine, nervous pathway, etc.) are involved. We do know that first language acquisition is reduced after puberty begins in the sense that individuals who do not have a language can learn words, but have difficulty learning grammar. A number of studies have demonstrated that apes have the ability to learn a limited amount of language in a laboratory setting; thus the biological potential for language may have been present in a common ancestor.

See faculty of language.

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