CTET Exam Notes : Child Development and Pedagogy (CDP)
Topic : Language & Thought
Theories of Language Acquisition
The nature vs. nurture debate extends to the topic of language acquisition. Today, most researchers acknowledge that both nature and nurture play a role in language acquisition. However, some researchers emphasize the influences of learning on language acquisition, while others emphasize the biological influences.
Environmental Influences on Language Acquisition
A major proponent of the idea that language depends largely on environment was the behaviorist B. F. Skinner (see pages 145 and 276 for more information on Skinner). He believed that language is acquired through principles of conditioning, including association, imitation, and reinforcement.
Critics of this idea argue that a behaviorist explanation is inadequate. They maintain several arguments:
- Learning cannot account for the rapid rate at which children acquire language.
- There can be an infinite number of sentences in a language. All these sentences cannot be learned by imitation.
- Children make errors, such as overregularizing verbs. For example, a child may say Billy hitted me, incorrectly adding the usual past tense suffix -ed to hit. Errors like these can’t result from imitation, since adults generally use correct verb forms.
- Children acquire language skills even though adults do not consistently correct their syntax.
Biological Influences on Language Acquisition
The main proponent of the view that biological influences bring about language development is the well-known linguist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky argues that human brains have a language acquisition device (LAD), an innate mechanism or process that allows children to develop language skills. According to this view, all children are born with a universal grammar, which makes them receptive to the common features of all languages. Because of this hard-wired background in grammar, children easily pick up a language when they are exposed to its particular grammar.
Evidence for an innate human capacity to acquire language skills comes from the following observations:
- The stages of language development occur at about the same ages in most children, even though different children experience very different environments.
- Children’s language development follows a similar pattern across cultures.
- Children generally acquire language skills quickly and effortlessly.
- Deaf children who have not been exposed to a language may make up their own language. These new languages resemble each other in sentence structure, even when they are created in different cultures.
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