Language and cognition in development: Old questions, new directions

Maya Hickmann


The relation between language and cognition in child development is one of the oldest and most debated questions, which has recently come back to the forefront of several disciplines in the social sciences. The overview below examines several universalistic vs. relativistic approaches to this question, stemming both from traditional developmental theories and from more recent proposals in psycholinguistics that are illustrated by some findings concerning space in child language. Two main questions are raised for future research. First, substantial evidence is necessary concerning the potential impact of linguistic variation on cognitive development, including evidence that can provide ways of articulating precocious capacities in the pre-linguistic period and subsequent developments across a variety of child languages. Second, relating language and cognition also requires that we take into account both structural and functional determinants of child language within a model that can explain development at different levels of linguistic organization in the face of cross-linguistic diversity.

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