Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-cf9d5c678-cnwzk Total loading time: 0.257 Render date: 2021-07-27T10:07:36.507Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Temporal determinants of language acquisition and bilingualism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2014

Caoimhghin S Breathnach
Department of Physiology, University College Dublin, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin 2


Modern methods of investigation in conscious subjects have shown that in normal brain, language is catered for by several essential areas localised in the frontal and temperoparietal cortex and by widely dispersed neurones that serve subsidiary, specialised linguistic functions. These sensory specific, phonological, articulatory and semantic ‘modules’ are activated in parallel. A relatively limited amount of language heard during the sensitive period, when one or other cerebral hemisphere usually becomes dominant for language, is all that is required for any normal child to develop fluency. The specific details of the code, or ‘set’, developed are dependent on the language of the child's environment; they are culturally acquired, but the propensity for language is inborn. During this sensitive period, two languages may be as easily accommodated as one. In stark contrast to the acquisition of natural bilingualism, after about the age of 10 years, any new language is acquired with difficulty for it must be translated into the individual's established language or languages. If a nation is to become bilingual, full advantage of the evanescent sensitive period must be taken by regularly exposing the pre-school child, rather than the older child undergoing formal education, to two languages.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1993

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1.Geschwind, N. The organisation of language in the brain. Science 1970; 170: 812817.Google Scholar
2.Petersen, S, Fox, P, Posner, M, Mintum, M, Raichle, M. Positron emission tomographic studies of the cortical anatomy of single word processing. Nature 1988; 331: 585589.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
3.Petersen, S, Fox, P, Posner, M, Mintum, M, Raichle, M. Positron emission studies of the processing of single words. Journal of Comparative Neuroscience 1989; 1: 153170.Google Scholar
4.Frith, CD, Friston, KJ, Liddle, PF, Frackowiak, RSJ. A PET study of word finding. Neuropsychologia 1991; 12: 11371148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
5.Woods, R, Dodrill, C, Ojemann, G. Brain injury, handedness, and speech lateralisation in a series of amobarbital studies. Annals of Neurology, 1988; 23: 510518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
6.Ojemann, G, Ojemann, J, Lettich, E, Berger, M. Cortical language localisation in left-dominant hemisphere. Journal of Neurosurgery 1989; 71: 316326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
7.Montessori, M. The absorbent mind. Translated by Claremont, C A. Oxford: Clio, 1988.Google Scholar
8.Dunlea, A. Vision and the emergence of meaning: blind and sighted children's early language. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
9.Lenneberg, EH. Biological foundations of language. New York: Wiley, 1967.Google Scholar
10.Lenneberg, EH. On explaining language. Science 1969; 164: 635643.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
11.Chomsky, N. B F Skinner: Verbal behaviour [review of]. In: Language 1959; 35: 3658.Google Scholar
12.Markey, JF. The symbolic process. London: Kegan Paul, 1928.Google Scholar
13.Donaldson, M. Language: learning word meaning. In: Gregory, RL, editor. The Oxford companion to the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.Google Scholar
14.Vygotsky, L. Thought and language. [1934]. Revised and edited by Kozulin, A. Cambridge MA: M I T Press, 1986.Google Scholar
15.Dennis, M, Whitaker, H. Language acquisition following hemidecortication: linguistic superiority of the left over the right hemisphere. Brain and Language 1976; 3: 404433.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
16.Feldman, HL, Holland, AL, Kemp, SS, Janosky, JE. Language development after unilateral brain injury. Brain and Language 1992; 42: 89102.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
17.Woods, BT. Is the left hemisphere specialised for language at birth? Trends in Neuroscience 1983; 6: 115117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
18.Penfield, W, Roberts, L. Speech and brain mechanisms. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959.Google Scholar
19.Thatcher, R, Walker, RA, Giudice, S. Human cerebral hemispheres develop at different rates and ages. Science 1987; 236: 11101113.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
20.Gazzaniga, MS. Organisation of the human brain. Science 1989; 245: 949951.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
21.Wada, J, Clarke, R, Hamm, A. Cerebral hemispheric asymmetry in humans: cortical speech zones in 100 adult and 100 infant brains. Arch Neurol 1975; 32: 239246.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
22.Chi, JG, Dooling, EC, Gilles, HF. Gyral development of the human brain. Ann Neurol 1977; 1: 8693. Left-right asymmetry of temporal speech areas of the human fetus. Arch Neurol 1977; 34: 346–348.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
23.Monod, J. Chance and necessity. London: Collins, 1972.Google Scholar
24.Cavalli-Sforza, LL, Piazza, A, Menozzi, P, Mountain, JL. Reconstruction of human evolution: bringing together genetic, archaeological and linguistic data. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1988; 85: 6002–6.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
25.Chomsky, N. Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton, 1957.Google Scholar
26.Lyons, J. Chomsky. London: Fontana/Collins, 1970.Google Scholar
27.Pinker, S, Bloom, P. Natural language and natural selection. Behaviour and Brain Sciences 1990; 13: 707784.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
28.Chomsky, N. Knowledge of language: its nature, origin and use. New York: Praeger, 1986.Google Scholar
29.Crain, S. Language acquisition in the absence of experience. Behaviour and Brain Sciences 1991; 14: 597611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
30.Hahuta, K, Cancino, H. Trends in second-language acquisition research. Harvard Educational Review 1977; 47: 294316.Google Scholar
31.Dulay, HC, Burt, MK. Natural sequence in child second language acquisition. Language Learning 1974; 24: 3753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
32.Leopold, W. Speech development of a bilingual child. New York: AMS Press, 1970.Google Scholar
33.Lambert, WE. Cognitive and socio-cultural consequences of bilingualism. Canadian Modern Language Review 1978; 34: 537547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
34.Bergan, JR, Parra, E. Variations in IQ testing and instruction and the latter learning and achievement of Anglo and bilingual Mexican-American children. Journal of Educational Psychology 1979; 71: 819826.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
35.Penfield, W. The neurophysiological basis of thought; 5. Speech. In: Howells, JG, editor. Modern perspectives in world psychiatry; vol 2. London: Macmillan, 1968: 329.Google Scholar
36.Kolb, R, Fantie, B. Development of the child's brain and behaviour. In: Reynolds, CR, Fletcher-Jansen, E, editors. Handbook of clinical child neuropsychology. New York: Plenum, 1989.Google Scholar
37.Zatorre, RJ. On the representation of multiple languages in the brain: old problems and new directions. Brain and Language 1989; 36: 127147.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
38.Paradis, M. Bilingualism and aphasia. Studies in Neurolinguistics 1977; 3: 65122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
39.Ojemann, GA, Whitaker, HA. The bilingual brain. Arch Neurol 1978; 35: 409412.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
40.Ojemann, G. Organisation of language cortex derived from investigations during neurosurgery. Seminars in Neuroscience 1990; 2: 297305.Google Scholar
41.Van Lieshout, P, Renier, W. Eling, P, de Bot, K. Slis, I. Bilingual language processing after a lesion in the left thalamus and temporal region. Brain and Language 1990; 38: 173194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
42.Grosjean, F. Neurolinguists, Beware! The bilingual is not two monolinguals in one person. Brain and Language 1989; 36: 315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
43.Cutler, A, Mehler, J. Norris, D, Segui, J. Limits on bilingualism. Nature 1989; 340: 229230.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
44.Hoequist, CE. Syllabic duration in stress –, syllable –, and moratimed languages. Phonetica 1883; 40: 203237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
45.Werker, JF, Tees, RC. The organisation and reorganisation of human speech perception. Annual Review of Neuroscience 1992; 15: 377402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
46.Jansen, RPS. Language acquisition: the new synthesis. Med J Aust 1977; 2: 130132.Google ScholarPubMed
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Temporal determinants of language acquisition and bilingualism
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Temporal determinants of language acquisition and bilingualism
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Temporal determinants of language acquisition and bilingualism
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *