Most linguists agree that children are born as universalists; meaning that they have the potential to speak any language. It is obvious that speech patterns become more ordered and sophisticated as a child grows. However, for spoken language to develop, the links between the phases of development must be exact and complete before the next phase can be achieved. For example, if a child is interrupted in one stage of development by trauma or lack of stimulation, it is likely he or she will not move beyond that point and will remain at that remedial level. In fact, children found in a few rare cases of isolation could not learn to speak at all.
Some might argue that children acquire language by simply imitating their parents. However, if this were so, children would be slow to move beyond baby talk. Instead of simply “parroting” what they hear, children have the innate ability to apply abstract rules to formulate grammatical concepts. For example, a child might ask, “Mommy go?” when they see that their baby sitter has arrived. This demonstrates that the child knows to place the subject first when speaking, followed by the verb. Who taught them to do this? No one. They just do it.
After children have begun to apply grammatical concepts in speech, they begin to apply words in new contexts. An example of this would be when a child says he is ready for his “big sleep” when he is ready to go to bed. The word combination is his own creation, and not a form of mimicry.
If language came about by only natural means, someone somewhere, would have had to get the sequence just right with no one else talking around them. In reality, this process would have had to happen in all the individuals of a particular group, all at the same time. Otherwise, who would they talk to?
Even modern evolutionary linguists, such as Noam Chomsky state that the ability for language acquisition is something that is built-in. God has designed us to communicate and to glorify Him even at a young age. The next time you hear a child’s amusing attempts at language acquisition, remember the awesome design of our Creator!
Originally Published in Winter 2004 Think and Believe.