The basic structures involved in the development of auditory function and consequently in language acquisition are directed by genetic code, but the expression of individual genes may be altered by exposure to environmental factors, which if favorable, orient it in the proper direction, leading its development towards normality, if unfavorable, they deviate it from its physiological course.
Early sensorial experience during the foetal period (i.e. intrauterine noise floor, sounds coming from the outside and attenuated by the uterine filter, particularly mother’s voice) and modifications induced by it at the cochlear level represent the first example of programming in one of the earliest critical periods in development of the auditory system.
This review will examine the factors that influence the developmental programming of auditory learning from the womb to the infancy. In particular it focuses on the following points:
- the prenatal auditory experience and the plastic phenomena presumably induced by it in the auditory system from the basilar membrane to the cortex;
- the involvement of these phenomena on language acquisition and on the perception of language communicative intention after birth;
- the consequences of auditory deprivation in critical periods of auditory development (i.e. premature interruption of foetal life).