Language/culture/mind/brain: Progress at the margins between disciplines

Patricia K. Kuhl*, Feng Ming Tsao, Huei Mei Liu, Yang Zhang, Bart De Boer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


At the forefront of research on language are new data demonstrating infants' strategies in the early acquisition of language. The data show that infants perceptually "map" critical aspects of ambient language in the first year of life before they can speak. Statistical and abstract properties of speech are picked up through exposure to ambient language. Moreover, linguistic experience alters infants' perception of speech, warping perception in a way that enhances native-language speech processing. Infants' strategies are unexpected and unpredicted by historical views. At the same time, research in three additional disciplines is contributing to our understanding of language and its acquisition by children. Cultural anthropologists are demonstrating the universality of adult speech behavior when addressing infants and children across cultures, and this is creating a new view of the role adult speakers play in bringing about language in the child. Neuroscientists, using the techniques of modern brain imaging, are revealing the temporal and structural aspects of language processing by the brain and suggesting new views of the critical period for language. Computer scientists, modeling the computational aspects of childrens' language acquisition, are meeting success using biologically inspired neural networks. Although a consilient view cannot yet be offered, the crossdisciplinary interaction now seen among scientists pursuing one of humans' greatest achievements, language, is quite promising.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-174
Number of pages39
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Brain imaging
  • Brain plasticity
  • Informatics
  • Language development
  • Linguistic experience
  • Motherese
  • Speech perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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