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Environmental and Cultural Impacts on Language Development


A stimulating and enriching environment and culture provide children with opportunities and support the development of effective language skills. Child development is a dynamic and interactive process through which young ones encounter and experience events, resulting in the progressive acquisition of a wide array of competencies. Various theorists have illustrated the powerful influence and significance of children’s surroundings on their overall well-being. This implies that infants growing up in diverse cultures and environments receive different inputs and signals from the vicinity, ultimately determining their development trajectory. For instance, a child growing up in a linguistically vibrant people-oriented society tends to enhance their language competencies more effectively and swiftly than those brought up in communities that emphasize individualism and introversion. Although all children are intrinsically born with language acquisition capability and acquire such skills in roughly the same way, the diverse cultural and environmental circumstances directly impact their linguistic development.

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Language is a naturally occurring human phenomenon and an instrument encompassing the symbols and signals through which individuals express their thoughts, ideas, and feelings. It is characterized by the systemized combination of the accepted sounds and signs, which have understandable meanings within a given community (Igiri et al., 2020). According to Samuel (2019) and Atmawati (2018), language is the creation of socio-cultural interaction through which societies and communities develop a recognizably different set of values, signs, sounds and symbols through which communication is enabled. Gelman and Roberts (2017) acknowledge the intertwined nature of language and culture and note that the former encompasses more than the sentence construction, words, and grammatical principles used by a particular society. Igiri et al. (2020) posit that the evolution of language is inherently molded by the culture of the people who converse in it. Language is a self-perpetuating and culture-specific phenomenon encompassing behavioral conventions, basic assumptions, attitudes, customs, and beliefs shared and accepted by a particular society.

Moreover, language is a distinctive cultural attribute, allowing people from a particular society to interact and engage with one another. For instance, such components as gestures, the unique tonal alterations of voice, and other community-specific nuances, which are critical in communication, are acquired through exposure to a given culture. According to Kim (2020), language transcends beyond the vocabularies and grammar and extends beyond numerous aspects of life. To situate this, Kim (2020) contends that learning an additional or foreign language is almost synonymous with obtaining knowledge about another culture. As a result, the most successful and accomplished language learners combine their expedition by integrating cultural studies to acquire a foreign language. From this dimension, the culture in which an individual is born and brought up defines the skills and intellectual adaptation tools that help such a person effectively function within that society.

Despite having no prior communication knowledge, children across all cultures and environments are born with intuitive language acquisition abilities and develop their linguistic competence in roughly the same way. According to Zauche et al. (2017), infants demonstrate various innate cognitive capabilities and mechanisms, particularly communication, which enable them to obtain and progressively enhance their language with apparent ease. This implies that infants are already equipped with language-specific features at birth, facilitating the acquisition and the subsequent development of language competence. Cakiroglu (2018) corroborates this view by noting that humans possess various innate biological abilities, including the initial potential for comprehension and speech. In this regard, the successive development and enhancement of this skill are primarily dependent on such factors as the environment and culture in which they are nurtured. The innateness of language capabilities in infants is augmented by the existence of such language-related components as facial expressions, gestures, and gaze.

Additionally, studies have demonstrated that the human species’ brains have evolved a neural circuit containing linguistic information at birth. Bar-Shalom (2018) contends that scientific findings have proven the existence of the universal grammar rules in children during delivery, which naturally predisposes them to acquire and interpret language without prior exposure. For instance, parents and caregivers do not formally teach their native languages to children. However, the infants progressively enhance their capacity and competence, although the people around them promote the effectiveness of the process. Cognitive psychologists posit that at 22 weeks, fetuses can respond to sounds, a mechanism that increasingly develops, allowing them to identify and react to speeches. These illustrations demonstrate that, at birth, children are already equipped with basic language capabilities, whose effectiveness continues to develop through exposure to cultural and environmental factors.

Review of the Relevant Literature

Language development encompasses the processes through which individuals acquire and progressively improve their ability to understand and communicate effectively. Although children are born with innate and elementary linguistic skills, their interaction with the environment and culture plays an influential role in enhancing their language and communication competencies. According to McIntyre et al. (2017), infants generally develop receptive linguistic abilities long before their expressive faculties start evolving. The former involves the understanding and comprehension of the words, gestures, and expressions of other people. As the language skills continue to develop and improve, their expressive potential progresses. Notably, this encompasses the ability of infants to communicate their thoughts, needs, and feelings, like describing events, requesting objects, and asking questions. Feldman (2019) argues that this pattern is primarily because learning acquisition and development occurs in a social context where the young ones copy and react to the behaviors they witness around them. This progression from the receptive to the expressive skills demonstrates that language evolution and maturing do not occur in a vacuum.

Additionally, the development of receptive language skills is enhanced through continuous exposure to various communication, vocabularies, speeches, and conversations. The experience of listening and observing people interact introduces the children to various critical language components, which constantly enrich their internal processing, comprehending, and understanding of language. Holzinger et al. (2020) posit that this is a vital phase since the effective acquisition and the subsequent honing of linguistic capabilities are anchored on the environment and culture in which they reside. This implies that the contextual aspect of upbringing may enhance or impede language development in infants. For instance, children living in social and cultural environments where interpersonal and intergroup interactions are valued get predisposed to a wide range of language components. Lu et al. (2016) authenticate this view by underscoring the indispensability of linguistic input in impacting the overall communication development in young ones. This indicates that the variability, frequency, quality, and volume of interactions and vocabularies present in a particular socio-cultural environment impact the rate and efficacy of language development.

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Behavioral theorists contend that all human habits are learned and acquired through interaction and observation with other people within the socio-cultural environment. Notably, infants’ initial language expression, either verbal or nonverbal, reflects what they have continuously observed from their parents, caregivers, and siblings. According to Nor and Rashid (2018), children acquire native receptive and expressive capabilities from their older peers, habits which are subsequently reinforced through negative or positive responses. This implies that the socio-cultural environment potentially influences the promotion or suppression of language development. In this regard, a culture in which social interactions and intergroup activity are extensive, infants’ language competencies are considerably accelerated. The behaviorist perspective argues that the conversations that children have with older peers and adults constitute the foundation on which language evolution is anchored.

Further, behaviorism acknowledges that the evolution and registered changes in language development result from their interaction with the environment and cultural context. Dastpak (2017) argues that, despite its complication and sophistication, language is a relatively simple and observable behavior with environmental origins. This implies that children progressively acquire and enhance their linguistic capability as a response to the surrounding stimuli. Notably, the reinforcement of a specific reaction through continuous exposure or reward systems inculcates the observed skill and ultimately becomes a behavior. For instance, Cantone (2018) asserts that the environment and culture are powerful mediums and platforms on which children are exposed to the language and progressively obtain the transmission abilities. This explains the production of native sounds and the expression of symbols observed within the environment in which the children are nurtured. Igiri et al. (2020) argue that a child only requires to be exposed to a culture and environment with diverse languages. From this perspective, consistent exposure to a rich and diversified language system within the socio-cultural environment is a critical component in the linguistic development in children.

The behaviorism theory of language development is supported by the acquisition of multilingual capabilities in societies and environments where more than one language is spoken. Although children are initially predisposed to enhancing their communicative abilities by acquiring the native language of their parents, exposure to another language stimulates their desire to observe and learn new communication. Since parents and caregivers do not use formal and explicit instructions in teaching languages, the young ones acquire their initial linguistic capabilities through observation and learning (Igiri et al., 2020). This implies that a child exposed to a range of languages besides the native one progressively achieves competence in multilingualism. Notably, this perspective illustrates the validity and authenticity of the behaviorism model of language development since an infant cannot develop vocabulary capability and communication effectiveness to a language they are yet to encounter.

Language is inherently intertwined and bi-directionally related to the environment in which it is spoken. Ecolinguistics posits that the surroundings in which people live impact language development in multiple dimensions. According to Chen (2016), it is a generally accepted position that occurrences in the global environment have significantly contributed to an explosion in the number of words describing those events. Additionally, a vibrant environmental context is enriched with multiple vocabularies, symbols, gestures, and signs, which allow people to encounter various linguistic aspects and components. Nolle et al. (2020) note that the environment possesses mechanisms that continually impact the evolution of languages and the emergence of linguistic conventions. This implies that there exist subtle environmental motivating factors which promote the transpiration of different communicative conventions. In this regard, people brought up in different environmental contexts are inherently predisposed to acquire varying language development competencies. For instance, surroundings that support interaction, frequent exchange of information, and other cognitive processes enhance the acquisition and subsequent language development more than environments that impede friendly and perpetual engagements.

Overall, language development is a dynamic and interactive process significantly influenced by cultural and environmental factors. This implies that people brought up in different environments and cultures are inherently predisposed to acquiring diverse linguistic capabilities, skills, and competencies. Additionally, children receive and develop their language from the socio-cultural and environmental surroundings in which they reside. The innate model of acquisition illustrates that children are already equipped with basic receptive linguistic capabilities at birth, which allow them to observe and comprehend various signs and symbols. However, the subsequent exposure to the spoken language, symbols, signals, and gestures enhance these intrinsic skills as influenced by cultural and environmental factors. In this regard, infants brought up in diverse cultural and environmental backgrounds have considerably diverse linguistic capabilities and provisions. These components demonstrate the impacts of culture and environment on language development.

Clinical Applications of Evidence-Based Interventions

Excessive environmental deprivations, neglect, and abuse are leading causes of language development impairment in children. This implies that the requisite linguistic milestones may not be accomplished at the ideal, indicating a slow evolution process or a completely impeded maturity cycle. Consequently, these infants ultimately have challenges acquiring their receptive and expressive capabilities, effectively limiting their ability to interact and socialize with others. Sunderajan and Kanhere (2019) note that speech and language delays are a prevalent occurrence in infants, which have a direct influence on their overall development and intellect. In this regard, initiating corrective interventions at the earliest opportunity and after the immediate onset of clinical indications is critical in enhancing the success of the remedies (Wooles et al., 2017). Notably, this phenomenon is considered the most prevalent disability in children and is a major public health concern. In this regard, early detection is critical. In this regard, detection and provision of remedies create opportunities for limiting severe impacts and long-term implications on educational attainment, social and emotional development.

The widely applied treatment modality for language development delays and disorders is speech and linguistic therapy. Essentially, it entails exposing and engaging the children in developmentally appropriate conversations to stimulate their acquisition of receptive faculties, which in turn enhances their expressive efficacy. However, Law et al. (2017) assert that it is imperative for physicians and therapists to effectively determine the non-existence of other underlying conditions through differential diagnosis to ensure that initiated interventions are effective. The initiated interventions may include intensified engagements through talking and playing, which increases vocabulary collection, syllable structure repertoires, phonetic inventories, better sound projection, and articulation. According to Marshall et al. (2016), the initial evidence-based strategy is to encourage focused child engagement in conversations with people they are familiar with to enhance their comfort and minimize distractive tendencies. From this perspective, language therapy is an effective strategy to address delays and associated disorders in linguistic development.

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Additionally, speech-language therapists begin by instilling receptive skills, which essentially require learners to engage their able-bodied counterparts and clinicians through observation and listening. Notably, these skills serve as the foundation for the children to understand better and learn the various components associated with a particular language, including appropriate responses, intonations, and facial expressions. McIntyre et al. (2017) posit that language therapists should strive to enhance the accomplishment of receptive capabilities to help learners decode information and trigger an appropriate and corresponding response. Indeed, children who experience challenges in receptive language demonstrate notable difficulties in communicating effectively. From this perspective, the assistance extended to children with delayed or impaired language development should first promote receptive language as the platform on which the expressive element would be built.

Since language is environment and culture-specific, active participation through observation and listening allows children to acquire, internalize, and sharpen the non-word contents expressed by their peers or adults. For instance, children may recognize that the utilization and invocation of facial expressions and hand gestures enrich the quality of engagements since they send equally important messages as the words. As a result, the young ones may use such skills whenever they communicate, effectively reinforcing and augmenting their expressive capabilities. Moreover, the built environment in which children live should be improvised and integrate adaptations that promote interaction and encourage positive engagement. Holzinger et al. (2020) and Kiatkheeree (2018) argue that such settings encourage interactivity, which is indispensable in language development. The environment should stimulate collaborative activities, direct conversations, and support unstructured relationships, exchanges, and reciprocity. Therefore, such surroundings provide the ideal setting for the instillation of receptive skills and the exercise of expressive abilities.

Need for Further Research in Environmental and Cultural Impacts on Language Development

Language development is a continuously evolving field and is characterized by emerging issues, insights, and observations, which require more in-depth analysis. Although this evaluation has provided dimensions and perspectives through which the environment and culture influence language development, additional knowledge and evaluation is necessary to establish their impacts, especially in bilingual or multilingual societies. Moreover, further studies are needed to provide evidence of how the socio-cultural environment enhances or impedes language development in children with such underlying conditions as autism.

Additionally, the prevailing language development and acquisition theories emphasize the influential role of culture and environment as critical components in the process. However, there is a limited exploration of the potential impacts of the prevalent digital reality on any theories. This implies that it is paramount to conduct research and provide evidence on how this new phenomenon affects language communication as the most fundamental of all skills possessed by humans. For instance, it is critical to recognize whether new theories are required to comprehensively understand how infants are acquiring language in the digital era. Additionally, it is imperative to demonstrate whether the continually evolving digital environment and the new modalities of interaction affect how languages are acquired. Also, researchers should explore whether these new technology-enabled mediums are detrimental or beneficial to language development.


Conclusively, language development is an interactive and dynamic process through which humans acquire their most fundamental skill of communication. It is directly impacted by a wide array of factors, with culture and environment playing the most definitive role. This is mainly because of the bidirectionality of the relationship between language, environment, and culture. Additionally, innatism and behaviorism are the most critically appropriate language development theories that explain the process through which the skill and competencies are acquired and progressively sharpened. These insights are critical and applicable in developing appropriate interventions for addressing impaired or delayed language development. However, additional views are required to illuminate the effects of digital technology and the new communication mediums on language development, their benefits or detriments, and whether they influence the quality of linguistics.


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