Is language an innate module?

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Is language an innate ‘module’? Discuss evidence for and against the existence of a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) (as proposed by Chomsky).

Child language acquisition is an area within psycholinguistics with many perspectives and theories. All humans have the capacity to acquire language, distinguishing us from other species, but the way in which children develop this complex tool is an ongoing debate that divides linguists. This essay discusses and supports the idea that children are born with the innate ability to learn a language, as proposed by Noam Chomsky in the 1950’s.

The theory takes a Nativist view, with the central idea that every human is born with a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) that is built into the brain. According to Chomsky, the LAD allows children to extract the rules of Universal Grammar (UG) in that all languages have in common and then apply them to their own specific language that the people around them speak. These are the principles of UG and include word categories such as nouns, adjectives, the formation of words and sentences and syntax, of which he had a particular interest in. Chomsky states that grammar is impossible to learn, however the words included in each language are different and can only be acquired through the environment and the situations that the child is exposed to. He suggests that there are parameters within UG that can be turned on or off unconsciously depending on their linguistic environment. For example, the word order in English is Subject, Verb, Object but this can differ around the world. The UG idea is supported in the way that children have knowledge of language that they have not been taught by an adult, for example the past tense. During the early years when the child is learning to talk, caregivers tend to give feedback on language based on the meaning of speech rather than the accuracy of their grammar. This proves how there is little focus on the grammar through the role of the caregiver giving specific instructions on grammatical rules .The speed and apparent ease that children have of this complex process also supports the UG concept. At around only one year old, the child is at the holophrastic stage which consists of single word utterances, mainly using content words. This supports Chomsky as it shows the child has an innate understanding of sentences although yet does not have the ability to add determiners, conjunctions etc to form the full sentence. At approximately 2-3 years, children enter the two word stage and can form simple sentences, ask questions and use the correct word order such as the subject followed by a verb, once again supporting Chomsky’s idea. Around the age of 5, only a few grammatical errors are found in the child’s language and they speak with ease and accuracy in a similar style to that of an adult.

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The High Amplitude Sucking technique (Kuhl, 1987) is a study that backs up the idea that everybody is born with a LAD. It shows that even babies can tell the difference between different phonemes from any language proving that it is an innate ability. The language that children come across during their early years will not all be grammatically correct and they will certainly not hear all examples of the language that they will use in the future. Therefore, the UG idea is relevant as children can be creative through their use of language. constructing new utterances that they ...

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**** 4 STARS This is a thoughtful and well structured essay which logically discusses and explores Chomsky's theory and theories which contradict and support it. Some case studies and examples are given and explanations are usually simple but detailed showing an understanding of main topic and concepts.