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Theories Of Language Development - Chomsky and Skinner

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Theories Of Language Development 10/10/03 Skinner Vs Chomsky Emma Smith Many psychologists have studied and researched into how we acquire language. Some have concluded that the ability to learn language is a genetically inherited skill. Others believe that language is learnt following birth and is due to environmental factors. This is part of the nature vs. nurture debate. One of the main psychologists who supported the nurture side was B.F Skinner. Skinner is an empiricist. He put forward the idea that children learn language because of the influence of the environment. Skinner believed that parents would provide more attention and pleasurable reactions when the infant made correct sounds or utterances. This way the child would gradually learn to speak and use language. The child would respond to the smiles and approval of the parents. Skinner explained this as operant conditioning; the reinforcement of a random response by a reward. By trial and error the child would learn to communicate. The child would repeat verbal behaviour that was rewarded and drop sounds or speech that did not work in terms of getting a pleasurable response. This is selective reinforcement. Pavlov and his dogs were and excellent example of operant conditioning. Pavlov rang a bell when it was time for the dogs to eat; eventually the dogs associated the bell with food. Each time the bell rang the dogs salivated. ...read more.


is proved to be a very successful form of teaching. Speech is simplified and clarified through tone, pace and pitch. Rhymes are also used to draw attention to and provide interest in word. For example "Doggy-woggy". Although this is more the input and social approach and is not quite what skinner had in mind, it does support the idea that environmental factors are important to language acquisition and development. * A psychologist called Rheingold found that a programme of reinforcement and non-reinforcement of three-month-old babblers affected the frequency of their vocalisations. * The learning theory also explains the acquisition of the meaning of words. Criticisms Against Skinner's Theory Very few people now believe that Skinner's learning theory completely explains how language is leaned. Therefore there is no surprise that the theory was widely criticised and just like any other theory developed some cracks. * Evidence from observational studies does not support Skinner's theory. Children seem to be able to learn and understand grammar despite the exposure to incorrect grammatical sentences. * Brown found that parents do not correct or reinforce grammar, but respond more to the truth of sentences. For Example, if the child says "he a girl" the mother would reply "Yes. That's a girl". * Trial and error learning cannot explain the rapid acquisition of language and the huge overall language comprehension that young children learn. ...read more.


* Learning has to play a role in correcting errors (such as "goed"). Chomsky's theory ignores the active role of parents in teaching language to their children. * The case of Genie provides mixed evidence for the role of innate language acquisition abilities, but does seem to encounter the idea of a critical time period (also known as the sensitive period) for acquisition as proposed by Lenneburg. Genie was deprived of proper verbal stimulation for thirteen years because she had been locked in a room away from human contact since birth. Although she was able to learn language she never developed completely normal linguistic abilities. This implies that humans have a sensitive period for normal language acquisition early in life. * Sachs reported the case of Jim, whose parents deaf but who was surrounded by spoken language from the television and radio in the hope that he would learn normal language. Jim showed no signs of learning language until a speech therapist took up his case at the age of three. Without the human interaction with the speech therapist there was no sign that Jim would have learned to speak. He needed the interaction before his language ability could develop. * If language development was innate, surely it would develop soon after we are able to control our voices, which is soon after one year of age. It does not explain why language takes a few years to develop. * Chomsky's theory also doesn't explain why there are such large variations in the rate children learn language. ...read more.

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