PASCAL is a project to investigate the human ability to acquire language, and the underlying biological endowment that provides specific language learning mechanisms. Clearly, language acquisition (LA) starts at birth, rendering neonates the first population to investigate, to get the full picture of how LA unfolds. PASCAL’s first objective is thus to investigate core cognitive dispositions, which render neonates able to interact with speech signals. We will focus on the neonates’ and young infants’ abilities to process auditory signals and to store them in memory. The second objective is to identify biological constraints that determine LA dispositions, in particular we will study the speech perception preferences in infants who do not yet produce speech, to understand if practice with the articulators is necessary to determine such preferences. The third objective, linked to the former one, is to understand the beginning of prosodic grouping abilities that might trigger the initialization of grammar. The fourth objective is to identify the origin of the functional specialization of segmental categories in speech processing. How early in life do consonants become specialized for lexical processing, and vowels for the extraction of regularities? The fifth objective is to explore a basic issue in LA, namely the type of bilingual exposure at different ages and their consequences for the enhancement of executive functions. We will also develop games to promote executive functions to complement the full immersion into a new language that children may get at different points in time. The results of this part of our project might have an important impact on educational policies.
Fields of science
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