Caregiver communication to the child as moderator and mediator of genes for language

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Abstract

Human language appears to be unique among natural communication systems, and such uniqueness impinges on both nature and nurture. Human babies are endowed with cognitive abilities that predispose them to learn language, and this process cannot operate in an impoverished environment. To be effectively complete the acquisition of human language in human children requires highly socialised forms of learning, scaffolded over years of prolonged and intense caretaker–child interactions. How genes and environment operate in shaping language is unknown. These two components have traditionally been considered as independent, and often pitted against each other in terms of the nature versus nurture debate. This perspective article considers how innate abilities and experience might instead work together. In particular, it envisages potential scenarios for research, in which early caregiver verbal and non-verbal attachment practices may mediate or moderate the expression of human genetic systems for language.

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