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Outline and Evaluate Chomsky's Approach to Language Acquisition.

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Ideas About Language ELA020C014A Emma Lomas Assignment One Outline and Evaluate Chomsky's Approach to Language Acquisition. Noam Chomsky, born in 1928 in Philadelphia, is the most influential figure in the field of linguistics. He is also highly regarded for his work in politics and philosophy. His ideas on language acquisition were radical and controversial which is part of the reason that he is the most sited living author today. Before Chomsky, linguists such as Frederic Skinner had been working with the theory of Behaviourism. Skinner believed that behaviour was learnt. The theory suggests that everything is learned through experience including language, which was said to be behaviour. Skinner and Bloomfield, another influential linguist in the behaviourist theory, believed that a child is born with no knowledge of its language and that the language has to be learnt. Chomsky's review of Skinner's book Verbal Behaviour in 1957 was regarded to have shattered the ideas of behaviourism for many linguists. His publications then went on to introduce his theory of Mentalism. His works suggested that the creative use of language ruled out the possibility that that language was learnt as a response to a stimulus. Mentalism theory looked at the internal processes of the mind. Chomsky believed that language was acquired and that it was innate. He wrote about his ideas on a child being born with the ability to acquire language, the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) ...read more.


The parameters are the rules that you learn for your specific language for example in English, which is an SVO language, the order in a sentence in subject, verb and object. The principles are constant for every language whilst the parameters are variable depending on the specific language. A basic principle of Universal Grammar is Structure Dependency. This principle is based on the fact that the knowledge of a language is dependent on the structural relationship in a sentence, which is made up of different phrase structures. In the English language the phrase structures are Noun phrases, Verb phrases and Determiners. Chomsky demonstrated the use of phrase structures in a sentence primarily with the use of tree diagrams and then in a new form known as the rewrite rule in 1957, which was a very significant development in his work. Chomsky proves the innate nature of the Language Acquisition Device and Universal Grammar, in his evidence dealing with the rapidity, complexity, imperfection and uniformity. The average child has the principles and acquires most of the grammar and language, by the age of three. By the age of five they have learnt the majority of the rules or parameters of their individual language. Chomsky suggests that this is far too much knowledge to learn in such a short amount of time and so there must be knowledge already present. ...read more.


This is where the behaviourism theory's ideas on response to a stimulus is seen to be true. The idea of a person being a blank slate is also relevant here as there is no knowledge of the second language and everything has to be learnt. This is different though if a child is brought up in a household with two languages, and is bilingual then it is Chomsky's language acquisition that is the relevant theory. Other social factors must come into the development of speech, as it cannot all be acquired. If a person was brought up and did not hear any language, then they could only develop their language to a certain degree. The LAD switches off at puberty so they would not be able to acquire language but if they were then put in an environment where they were surrounded by language again, there could be a chance they could learn some language but they may not be able to maintain it to a high level. There has not been any other linguist since Chomsky that has disproved his ideas about language acquisition or has worked on a more influential theory. His approach to language acquisition is the most well proven theory, which is why it is so influential in the field of linguistics. The majority of linguists do believe that language is acquired and Chomsky's work is yet to be sufficiently challenged enough to change opinion. ...read more.

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