Language Acquisition: Neural basis
Neural structures in the brain have time and gain being associated with the innate language ability, and, likewise, language acquisition and development are thought to take place with neural maturation. In mid 20th century, Jackson proposed a Hierarchal model to find out the how is language structured, organised and processed inside human brain, and if it is possible to correlate parts of the brain to linguistic elements. According to him, there are hierarchies in organisation of linguistic structures.
Jackson and Brown had earlier claimed hierarchies to occur in the organisation and ontogenesis of central nervous system. Basic functions of behaviour and linguistic element processing, according to their framework, are accomplished by primitive neural structures and the more complex behaviour and linguistic functions with less primitive structures. Language expression, being the most complex of all, is located in less primitive layers.
In Meynert’s view, the flow of language processes take place from the posterior regions dedicated to reception of sensory stimuli towards anterior regions dedicated to motor responses. John Hughlings Jackson furthered this idea by proposing that the central nervous system is arranged in hierarchies, with more complex functions superimposed on comparatively simpler ones.
Jason Brown attributed early stages of language production to primitive areas in the brain and later stages of language production to less primitive or mature areas. Language structures during acquisition are activated from simple to complex structures. In this way, neural hierarchy involved in language parallels ontogenesis of brain development and evolution.
Humans do not have a mature, fully developed nervous system at the time of birth. The brain organisation is still primitive in nature and matures with time. Language development in children is thought to be synonymous with brain development. Mutism in children occurs even with small neural lesions. As compared to children, however, adults need deeper lesions in the brain to fully lose language.
Also, superficial lesions cause agrammatism and disturbances in articulation, which are recoverable in many cases. This is also true for behavior and cognitive intelligence. Deeper neural tissues perform more basic language functions and superficial structures perform additional linguistic functions. Basic phonemes that develop in early stages lie in deeper, more primitive neural tissues.
Note: You may also want to read this interesting blog post on the Role of Input in Language Acquisition.
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