PRI Spotlights Prof’s Research on One of the World’s Youngest Languages

Fall Leaves on Campus

Assistant Professor of Psychology Molly Flaherty was featured on the popular public radio show, The World, last week.

In her research, Flaherty seeks to understand the connection between the developing mind and the development of language. She does this by studying one of the youngest languages known to science: Nicaraguan Sign Language. NSL emerged in the early 1980s, as deaf Nicaraguan children were grouped together in schools for the first time, a major change from the isolation in which they typically grew up.

The rapid development of NSL offers insight into how languages develop and how people of different ages receive and learn it.

“It's not like it takes a hundred years to get a language off the ground, and that's really good to know,” Flaherty said. “That means language is so integral to our human experience that, basically, if given half a chance to emerge it will.”

And when a language develops among children—like NSL did—there is a singular opportunity to examine how young minds influence language.

“This integral product we all use every day, all day, may really be shaped by the youngest minds, and by the youngest people in our world,” Flaherty said. “I like that idea, that we're all using this creation of children all the time, and we don't necessarily realize it.”


  • September 30, 2020