The Functional Significance of Cerebral Specialization

  • Helen J. Neville


Eric Lenneberg’s studies of the biological foundations of language are classic documentations of the intimate relation between the maturation of the brain and maturation of behavior. Lenneberg carefully followed the development of speech and language skills in the growing child and showed impressive correlations between milestones in the acquisition of language and the attainment of adult values of various parameters of brain maturation. The latter included cell body volume of neurons in the cortex, dendritic arborization, gray-cell coefficient, and the chemical composition. of cerebral white matter. Lenneberg (1967) showed that these values of brain maturation, taken together with various indices of cerebral specialization of function, predict the point at which the child first puts words together (70% of adult brain values or around 20 months), and the time when language is quite clearly a part of the child’s behavioral repertoire, but not yet fully developed (i.e., around 85% of adult brain values and around 4 years of age). Of these variables indexing the state of maturation of the brain, cerebral specialization is the only one for which there are simple methods of observation in the normal child and adult.


Left Hemisphere Deaf Child Evoke Potential Hemispheric Asymmetry Left Visual Field 
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© Plenum Press, New York 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen J. Neville
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Neurosciences, A-012University of California at San DiegoLa JollaUSA

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