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Language: Nature vs Nurture

Updated on November 15, 2009

A controversy arises when we try to examine the extent of genetic influence on human behaviour. How many of our ability or issues are innate and how many do we acquire through interpersonal interaction and our environment? This debate has been going on for centuries and at one time or another both nature or nurture have become the more prominent belief.

At one end of the spectrum is John Locke's idea of "tubula rasa" which proposes that the minds of newborns are literal blank slates that are altered only through sensory experience. At the other extreme is modern biological determinism which in its strictest form suggests that behaviours are inherent and innate; results of our genetic makeup.

However, it is most likely that the truth lies between these two extremes.

Language in particular has drawn much controversy in the nature-nurture debate; how much is our ability to produce and understand language programmed into our genes and how much do we acquire from our environment? Clearly language is not completely genetic as Humans as a species speak over 6000 languages world wide and an infant from any ethnic background can learn to speak and understand any of them if exposed to them at the proper time of development and not just the language of their parents. However, all humans use language in one form or another and case studies on feral children studies show that language development still occurs.


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