Is speech learning ‘gated’ by the social brain?


Address for correspondence: Patricia K. Kuhl, Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, Mailstop 357920, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA; e-mail:


I advance the hypothesis that the earliest phases of language acquisition – the developmental transition from an initial universal state of language processing to one that is language-specific – requires social interaction. Relating human language learning to a broader set of neurobiological cases of communicative development, I argue that the social brain ‘gates’ the computational mechanisms involved in human language learning.