The Silence of the Asonu by Ursula K. Le Guin
The strength in Le Guin’s writing has always been her worldbuilding. She seems to have an infinite capacity for creating varied cultures. In The Silence of the Asonu she creates a world in which none of the adults talk and the children gradually lose language.
Children from two to six years old chatter to each other constantly; they argue, wrangle, and bicker, and sometimes come to blows. As they come to be six or seven they begin to speak less and to quarrel less. By the time they are eight or nine most of them are very shy of words and reluctant to answer a question except by gesture. They have learned to quietly evade inquiring tourists and linguists with notebooks and recording devices. By adolescence they are as silent and as peaceable as the adults.
There is little plot in the story – there is a somewhat amusing section where the silence of the Asonu has been given a mysticism by a group of zealots who seem to want to read far more into one Asonu’s utterances than warranted.
The story turns dark when one of the zealots kidnaps a young Asonu child in hopes of getting it to speak longer so that she could teach him the secrets the Asonu hide. Unsurprisingly, this does not turn out well.
Unfortunately, the story collapses for me when Le Guin ends the story with a lame joke.