• Updated
07 November 2017

Learning a mother tongue: A universal process ?

How do children learn their mother tongue? This question has been the subject of few studies conducted outside of industrialized countries.

At the Laboratoire de sciences cognitives et psycholinguistique (CNRS/ENS/EHESS), specialists in language development in children have studied a traditional population in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane,[1] in partnership with bio-anthropologists from Toulouse 1 Capitole University[2] and the University of California at Santa Barbara. Their study, published on November 2, 2017 in the journal Child Development, shows that, on average, less than one minute per hour is spent talking to children under the age of four. This is up to ten times less than for children of the same age in industrialized countries. This observation should prompt us to conduct more studies of this kind in various cultures in order to verify if the process of learning a mother tongue is universal.

[1] Or Chimane.
[2] Within the Labex IAST (Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse).

Mère chimane avec sa fille

Tsimane mother with her daughter.
Does observational learning contribute to language acquisition among Tsimane children? That is one of the questions the researchers now wish to answer.

© Jonathan Stieglitz

Press release

Bibliography :
Child-directed speech is infrequent in a forager-farmer population: A time allocation study
, Alejandrina Cristia, Emmanuel Dupoux, Michael Gurven, Jonathan Stieglitz. Child Development, 2 novembre 2017. DOI : 10.1111/cdev.12974