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Cognition. 1991 Sep;40(3):159-201.

The evolution of the critical period for language acquisition.

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  • 1Department of Linguistics, University of Edinburgh, UK.


Evidence suggests that there is a critical, or at least a sensitive, period for language acquisition, which ends around puberty. The existence of this period is explained by an evolutionary model which assumes that (a) linguistic ability is in principle (if not in practice) measurable, and (b) the amount of language controlled by an individual conferred selective advantage on it. In this model, the language faculty is seen as adaptive, favoured by natural selection, while the critical period for language acquisition itself is not an adaptation, but arises from the interplay of genetic factors influencing life-history characters in relation to language acquisition. The evolutionary model is implemented on a computer and simulations of populations evolving under various plausible, if idealized, conditions result in clear critical period effects, which end around puberty.

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