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Guest Talk by Prof Guillaume Thierry (Bangor University): First impressions: On the importance of early language experience

13.07.2022 | 16:00 c.t.

Prof. Guillaume Thierry (University of Bangor) is giving a talk about:

First impressions: On the importance of early language experience 


A century of research on language development has taken us from the description of elementary stages of language manifestations in infants such as cooing and babbling to some understanding of the sophisticated interplay between the forces of nature and nurture as we make our first steps into language acquisition. Whilst the term “development” is neutral with respect to the mechanism at work, “acquisition” suggest that the bases of language are not (all) defined at birth or dominated by inherited genetic schemas, but rather develop through interactions with the environment, from the very first moments our central nervous system can perceive sounds in utero. Here, I showcase how early language experience shapes our neurofunctional architecture, probably for life: (1) Functional near-infrared spectroscopy data show that new-borns exposed to vowels played forwards and backwards (a subtle contrast difficult to discriminate for adults) are able to differentiate them after five hours of repeated exposure, and this causes a spurt of functional connectivity in their brain within the first 24 hours of being born; (2) 11-month Japanese infants presented with spikey or round shapes spontaneously match them with sound symbolic pseudowords kipi and moma in the absence of any training, as shown by event-related brain potentials and even-related phase desynchronization; (3) Adult Chinese individuals adopted to Sweden within their two first years of life and never re-exposed to a Chinese dialect retain the capacity to differentiate lexical tones on a par with adult Chinese controls. Together these results suggest that early language experiences have a profound and resilient effect on our cognitive makeup throughout life and that these effects build upon innate propensities that we are endowed with at birth. In other words, from time zero, for language as for any other cognitive dimension of the human mind, P=G*E (Phenotype = Genotype * Environment).

Zeit & Ort

13.07.2022 | 16:00 c.t.

JK 31/102