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Maturational Constraints on Language Development

  • Michael H. Long (a1)

This article reviews the second language research on age-related differences, as well as first language work needed to disambiguate some of the findings. Five conclusions are drawn, (a) Both the initial rate of acquisition and the ultimate level of attainment depend in part on the age at which learning begins. (b) There are sensitive periods governing language development, first or second, during which the acquisition of different linguistic abilities is successful and after which it is irregular and incomplete. (c) The age-related loss in ability is cumulative (not a catastrophic one-time event), affecting first one linguistic domain and then another, and is not limited to phonology, (d) The deterioration in some individuals begins as early as age 6—not at puberty as is often claimed. (e) Affective, input, and current cognitive explanations for the reduced ability are inadequate. The capacity for language development is maturationally constrained, and its decline probably reflects a progressive loss of neural plasticity, itself possibly associated with increasing myelination.

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