Good Grammar in All of Us

"The notion of 'subject' does not appear to require either linguistic input or a lengthy history within a language to develop," Newport says. "We're starting to see that the grammatical concept of 'subject' is part of the bedrock on which languages form."

That would suggest, as other research also indicates, that we are born with the ability to develop certain skills.

Researchers Kerry Jordan and Elizabeth Brannon of Duke University have shown that infants seem to have an innate sense of "two-ness and three-ness," or a sense of abstract numerical concepts. The cognitive neuroscientists wanted to see if babies could match the number of sounds, like the voices of three people, with the number of sources.

So they played recordings of human voices while allowing 7-month-old babies to watch two video screens. When the babies heard two voices, the infants stared longer at the screen showing two humans than the screen showing three, and vice versa.

According to the researchers, who also report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, even babies understand numbers. At least a little.

All of this would suggest that humans are endowed with some rather remarkable abilities. But before we get carried away with our uniqueness, it's worth noting that the Duke scientists did the same experiment earlier with monkeys. And they got the same result.

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