Theories addressing the biological basis of language must be built on an appreciation of the ways that molecular and neurobiological substrates can contribute to aspects of human cognition. Here, we lay out the principles by which a genome could potentially encode the necessary information to produce a language-ready brain. We describe what genes are; how they are regulated; and how they affect the formation, function, and plasticity of neuronal circuits. At each step, we give examples of molecules implicated in pathways that are important for speech and language. Finally, we discuss technological advances in genomics that are revealing considerable genotypic variation in the human population, from rare mutations to common polymorphisms, with the potential to relate this variation to natural variability in speech and language skills. Moving forward, an interdisciplinary approach to the language sciences, integrating genetics, neurobiology, psychology, and linguistics, will be essential for a complete understanding of our unique human capacities.


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