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Abstract

The nature and origin of the human capacity for acquiring language is not yet fully understood. Here we uncover early roots of this capacity by demonstrating that humans are born with a preference for listening to speech. Human neonates adjusted their high amplitude sucking to preferentially listen to speech, compared with complex non-speech analogues that controlled for critical spectral and temporal parameters of speech. These results support the hypothesis that human infants begin language acquisition with a bias for listening to speech. The implications of these results for language and communication development are discussed.