The development of language during infancy could be determined by genetic factors, new research has suggested.
At around ten to 15 months of age, infants begin to produce words, with their range of vocabulary increasing as they grow older. Typically, a child will have a vocabulary of 50,000 words by the time they finish secondary school.
Researchers at the University of Bristol along with colleagues from around the world set out to investigate whether there is a link between genetic changes near the ROBO2 gene – which may be responsible for helping infants to produce sounds and develop language – and the number of words spoken by children in the first stages of language development.
They analysed data from over 10,000 children, assessing their level of expressive vocabulary at 15 to 18 months of age and at 24 to 30 months of age.
A genetic link was found in the early phase of language acquisition at 15 to 18 months, when infants typically communicate with single words.
The ROBO2 gene is responsible for producing the ROBO2 protein, which is associated with language development. This protein also interacts with other ROBO proteins that have been linked to problems with reading and storing speech sounds.
The results provided further insight into a specific genetic region on chromosome three – implicated in learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
Dr Beate St Pourcin, lead researcher at the university, said: “This research helps us to better understand the genetic factors which may be involved in the early language development in healthy children, particularly at a time when children speak with single words only, and strengthens the link between ROBO proteins and a variety of linguistic skills in humans.”
With the study revealing that genetics play a significant part in language development, steps can therefore be taken at an early stage to help those who have dyslexia. One effective method involves using interactive assistive technologies, which can contribute towards improving the reading, speech and writing skills of children with this learning difficulty.
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