Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Breaking the linguistic code requires the extraction of at least two types of information from the speech signal: the relations between linguistic units and their sequential position. Furthermore, these different types of information need to be integrated into a coherent representation of language structure. The brain networks responsible for these abilities are well known in adults, but not in young infants. Our results show that the neural architecture underlying these abilities is operational at birth. In three optical imaging studies, we found that the newborn brain detects identity relations, as evidenced by enhanced activation in the bilateral superior temporal and left inferior frontal regions. More importantly, the newborn brain can also determine whether such identity relations hold for the initial or final positions of speech sequences, as indicated by increased activity in the inferior frontal regions, possibly Broca's area. This implies that the neural foundations of language acquisition are in place from birth.