7 000 languages are spoken around the world in diverse cultures. Yet slightly more than half of the studies on native language acquisition focus on children learning a single language, usually English, in the United States. How can we know, then, whether native language acquisition follows a universal process?
Researchers from the Laboratoire de sciences cognitives et psycholinguistique (UMR8554, CNRS / EHESS / ENS-PSL) and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology studied the vocal experiences of children from the island of Malakula (Vanuatu) where multilingualism is the norm. The results, recently published in the journal Developmental Science, reveal that the children on the island vocalize at a rate comparable to that of children from monolingual populations usually studied, despite the fact that they hear less speech. These results highlight the importance of observing children from diverse cultures to describe the process of language development.