An essential biological foundation of language is humans’ ability to make and receive the sounds used in it, which is absent in other animals. Per Moravcsik, they include the structure of the ear and the larynx, though there may also be other components that are not as well-understood (66). Although other animals may be able to hear in the same spectrum as humans or better, none can produce the same range of vocalizations as humans. Many can still communicate in a rudimentary fashion, but none have developed language abilities to the same degree as humans or have been proven capable of doing so. For example, dogs have cues as to their mood and intentions that the owners can learn, and they can understand specific words if taught to do so. However, they do not have the capacity to emulate sounds humans make or understand more complex sentence structures.
With that said, one’s environment also plays an important role in the development of language in people. At an early age, they have to be exposed to regular communication by those around them, which forms their vocabulary and syntax. Without receiving this information within the critical early period of their lives, they will struggle to internalize and learn languages later on in their lives. Hyams et al. provide the examples of Genie and Chelsea, two women who were not exposed to a language as children and were unable to develop grammar abilities despite researchers’ best efforts (463). If they were not deprived of contact with other people at an early age, they would most likely have developed language abilities normally. As such, while the biological component of language is essential, it is not adequate alone without behavioral factors.
Hyams, Nina, et al. An Introduction to Language. 11th ed., Cengage Learning, 2018.
Moravcsik, J. M. Understanding Language: A Study of Theories of Language in Linguistics and in Philosophy. De Gruyter, 2019.