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Lost Languages in the Brain

November 24, 2014

When children are adopted internationally, the first language they hear as babies may not be entirely lost.



Retrieving hidden languages. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Children who are adopted internationally begin their lives hearing one language, but often grow up speaking a different one. But the first language might not be entirely lost, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. McGill University researchers Lara Pierce, Denise Klein and their colleagues had girls listen to Chinese sounds while in a brain scanner. They compared French speaking girls who had been adopted from China as young children to Chinese-French bilinguals and to girls who spoke only French. Klein says in Chinese, similar sounds can mean different things depending on their pitch.

DENISE KLEIN (McGill University):

The French-only individuals processed these tones like a pitch changes.


But she says both bilinguals and the adoptees activated regions of the brain important for language processing. This suggests that early experiences with a language can’t easily be overwritten. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.