Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Humans May Be Programmed to Learn Language, New Research Suggests

This fellow will not learn proper grammar.

Joel Kontinen

During the dark ages of Darwinism, researchers assumed that language evolved from the grunts of ape-like creatures. Thia view has, however, evolved quite a bit since then.

In the 1960s Noam Chomsky initially suggested that humans may have a universal grammar and be predisposed to learn languages. In this sense – and many others as well – humans are unique.

An article in New Scientist reports on two recent studies on language learning that seem to support this view:

People instinctively organise a new language according to a logical hierarchy, not simply by learning which words go together, as computer translation programs do. The finding may add further support to the notion that humans possess a ‘universal grammar’, or innate capacity for language.”

To test this theory, “Jennifer Culbertson, a linguist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and her colleague David Adger of Queen Mary University of London, constructed an artificial ‘nanolanguage’ ".

Culbertson and Adger tested it on adults, who seemed to know instinctively how sentences are build in a certain language.

In the other study, “David Gomez, a neuroscientist at the University of Chile in Santiago, and his colleagues measured blood flow in the brains of 24 newborn infants as they listened to recordings of spoken nonsense syllables. The syllables differed in a linguistic property called ‘sonority’, which describes the consonants that most easily precede and follow one another.”

They seemed to know instinctively how words are constructed. Both studies support the view that we have an innate capacity for learning language.

This should be no surprise to those of us who take the Bible, including its opening chapters, as history. After all, Adam was able to communicate with God and with Eve from the very beginning. And he was intelligent enough to name all the land animals that God brought to him at the dawn of history.


Holmes, Bob. 2014. Born to chat: Humans may have innate language instinct. New Scientist (31 March).