From the moment we wake up, we are bombarded with language — be it a friendly hello from a neighbor or a text from a friend. Although many animals communicate with one another, our ability to produce and comprehend complex language separates us from other species. Scientists have long attempted to understand this uniquely human skill by studying people who are born with speech and language problems, or who develop them following brain injury. Recent technological advances allow researchers to peer into the brain, illuminating the areas at work when we talk, listen, and write.
Ongoing studies are helping researchers identify genes important for communication that may be affected in disorders such as autism, which is marked by deficits in language and social communication. Studies of animals such as songbirds and mice are also providing scientists clues about social communication and are ultimately helping shed light on how humans learn to speak.