From melody to words: The role of sex hormones in early language development

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Abstract

Contribution to Special Issue on Fast effects of steroids.

Human infants are the most proficient of the few vocal learner species. Sharing similar principles in terms of the generation and modification of complex sounds, cross-vocal learner comparisons are a suitable strategy when it comes to better understanding the evolution and mechanisms of auditory-vocal learning in human infants. This approach will also help us to understand sex differences in relation to vocal development towards language, the underlying brain mechanisms thereof and sex-specific hormonal effects. Although we are still far from being capable of discovering the “fast effects of steroids” in human infants, we have identified that peripheral hormones (blood serum) are important regulators of vocal behaviour towards language during a transitory hormone surge (“mini-puberty”) that is comparable in its extent to puberty. This new area of research in human infants provides a promising opportunity to not only better understand early language acquisition from an ontogenetic and phylogenetic perspective, but to also identify reliable clinical risk-markers in infants for the development of later language disorders.

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