Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Chomsky's approach to Language Acquisition.
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Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of Chomsky's approach to Language Acquisition. Noam Chomsky is perhaps the best known and influential linguist of the second half of the Twentieth Century. He has made a number of claims about language, in particular he suggests that language is an innate discipline in that we are born with a set of rules about language in our heads which he refers to as the 'Universal Grammar'. The universal grammar is the basis upon which all human languages build. In Chomsky's early work, this takes the form of an innate structure called the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). Psychologists have produced several accounts of infant language acquisition, which differ in their underlying theoretical perspectives. Behavioural perspectives in Language acquisition identified a sequence in language development. Skinner (1957) argued that language was learned by the child through the process of operant conditioning, a process of stimulus-response where a result occurs as a consequence of actions and that the environment in which a child lives reinforces behaviour.
He argued that Skinner's theory implied that children learn entirely through trial and error, that they try out possible utterances which they adopt if approved and reject if they do not. He argued that children acquire language in such a short space of time, acquiring complex grammatical rules and extensive vocabulary that would not have been possible through a trial and error system. Chomsky proposed that the child has a language acquisition device (LAD) which is an inherent mechanism allowing the child to hear the spoken language around it to reveal the basic principles of the language. In 1983 J Bruner brought together the two previous perspectives on Language acquisition to form the Interactionist Perspective, which consisted of the two elements, cognitive and social interaction between the child and the environment. He argued that parents provide their children with a language acquisition support system (LASS) which is a collection of strategies that parents use to facilitate their children's acquisition of language.
undertook a study of a child born to deaf parents. This child was surrounded by language in the form of television and radio but received no spoken language or LASS from his parents. The child only succeeded in acquiring language once he was referred to a speak therapist. As soon as the child received the social interaction of language he developed very quickly. This disproved Chomsky's views on the biological perspective. Although there have been many critics of Chomsky, many of his views have appeared in later research into the interactionist perspective. The focus of attention on features of languages common to all languages is one of the strengths of Chomsky's approach, the idea of universal grammar. The theory that a child does not simply copy the language that they hear around them, they deduce rules from it, which they can then use to create sentences that they have never heard before. Many studies of child directed speech, research undertaken by Catherine Snow (1979), show that speech to young children is slow, clear, grammatical and repetitious, supporting the work of Chomsky that children are able to learn without the social interaction.
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