Linking behavioral and neurophysiological indicators of perceptual tuning to language. Academic Article uri icon


  • Little is known about the neural mechanisms that underlie tuning to the native language(s) in early infancy. Here we review language tuning through the lens of type and amount of language experience and introduce a new manner in which to conceptualize the phenomenon of language tuning: the relative speed of tuning hypothesis. This hypothesis has as its goal a characterization of the unique time course of the tuning process, given the different components (e.g., phonology, prosody, syntax, semantics) of one or more languages as they become available to infants, and biologically based maturational constraints. In this review, we first examine the established behavioral findings and integrate more recent neurophysiological data on neonatal development, which together demonstrate evidence of early language tuning given differential language exposure even in utero. Next, we examine traditional accounts of sensitive and critical periods to determine how these constructs complement current data on the neural mechanisms underlying language tuning. We then synthesize the extant infant behavioral and neurophysiological data on monolingual, bilingual, and sensory deprived tuning, thereby scrutinizing the effect of these three different language profiles on the specific timing, progression, and outcome of language tuning. Finally, we discuss future directions researchers might pursue to further understand this aspect of language development, advocating our relative speed of tuning hypothesis as a useful framework for conceptualizing the complex process by which language experience works together with biological constraints to shape language development.

published proceedings

  • Front Psychol

author list (cited authors)

  • Fava, E., Hull, R., & Bortfeld, H.

citation count

  • 18

complete list of authors

  • Fava, Eswen||Hull, Rachel||Bortfeld, Heather

publication date

  • January 2011