Language acquisition and speech rhythm patterns: an auditory neuroscience perspective.


All human infants acquire language, but their brains do not know which language/s to prepare for. This observation suggests that there are fundamental components of the speech signal that contribute to building a language system, and fundamental neural processing mechanisms that use these components, which are shared across languages. Equally, disorders of language acquisition are found across all languages, with the most prevalent being developmental language disorder (approx. 7% prevalence), where oral language comprehension and production is atypical, and developmental dyslexia (approx. 7% prevalence), where written language acquisition is atypical. Recent advances in auditory neuroscience, along with advances in modelling the speech signal from an amplitude modulation (AM, intensity or energy change) perspective, have increased our understanding of both language acquisition and these developmental disorders. Speech rhythm patterns turn out to be fundamental to both sensory and neural linguistic processing. The rhythmic routines typical of childcare in many cultures, the parental practice of singing lullabies to infants, and the ubiquitous presence of BabyTalk (infant-directed speech) all enhance the fundamental AM components that contribute to building a linguistic brain.