Skinners view on language acquisition is the same as his views on child behaviour, similar to that of Bandura, as he suggests that imitation takes a large role in behaviour and also language acquisition. (Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2003)
Evidence that supports this theory are those that are with us everyday, as children learn the same language and accent as those in their social groups, along with learning new words after reproducing. Clarke-Stewart, 1973 produced a study in which it investigated the different vocabulary sizes by looking a mothers and children who talk a lot to each other, it was found that the more mother spoke to a child the larger the vocabulary he child produced (Smith, Cowie &Blades, 2003). The Skinnerian view has been criticized greatly through its lack of empirical evidence. Other evidence that criticizes Skinners approach is the fact that the child is only seen as passively involved in learning language (Radford and Govier, 1995) There have been further research into Skinner's approach, developed by Moerke(1991)(cited in Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2003) where he suggests a “Skill Learning Model” taking into account not only operant conditioning but also social learning theory and Piaget's cognitive theory. Moerke shows that the process of language acquisition comes form a feedback cycle where a trainer, primary caregiver, gives a response where a child must respond and then give feedback.(Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2003)
Social interaction, is shown to have great influence into language acquisition. Bruner, 1983 agreed with the idea that social interaction with an adult in “establishing common communicative ground” is essential for a child to be able to use language efficiently. (Tomasello, 2003)An important aspect of this theory suggests that parents give meaning and to the sounds babbled by the infant. For instance, if a baby gurgles or grunts after a meal, this suggests to a parent that this was intended as an expression of content and feeling on the part of the small child. These lead to verbal exchanges from the parent which is then extended and repeated (Smith, Cowie &Blades, 2003). Bruner, 1983 interprets these interactions and supports it with the “Language Acquisition Support System,” (LASS). He suggests the social rituals and the reciprocity are vital for the environmental structure later to form in a child's comprehension of the world and its language utterances. An example of the LASS, is when a parent talks to a child, he will simplify the context and speak in a way that is understandable to acquire grammatical sense and meaning. This also gives support for the biological approach which will be mentioned later on.
In support to the social interactionist approach, Tomasella, Carpenter & Nagell, 1998 investigated the relationship between early age children ( just beginning to use and learn language) and attentional engagement with their mothers. The findings were the children of twelve months produced more language when the time spent was joint attentional engagement with their mothers (Tomasello, 2003). This gives support towards the social Interactionist model of language acquisition.
However, in contrast to this theory and to support the proposed question, other theorists focused on the more universal properties to explain language acquisition. These include Chomsky's beliefs that language acquisition focuses on the relationship between speech sounds and meaning is not simple in association (Smith,Cowie & Blades, 2003). Chomsky, a linguist, developed a nativist approach to language acquisition suggesting the language is a knowledge, that goes through stages. An unborn baby has no knowledge therefore zero, whereas an adult is full of knowledge, termed steady state.
Chomsky suggested that humans could not learn language without their “Language acquisition Device, (LAD)”which he proposed to be innate.(Smith,Cowie & Blades, 2003).The device is proposed to acquire linguistic competence, in other terms, generative grammar.(Cook & Newson, 2001) Chomsky argued that a child's acquisition of grammar is not through learning, but by using the speech that he hears to choose among different grammars stored in his LAD(Ernest & Govier, 1995). Furthermore, the LAD generates hypotheses about the regularities that is stored, for example, adding an 's' to a noun makes it plural. These hypotheses are then tested through the input of new utterances and therefore become rejected or accepted. This model is universal as it refers to all languages, as phonological aspects, and syntax and grammatical structures underlying them, which are consistent in all languages, worldwide (Smith,Cowie & Blades, 2003).
In addition, Chomsky stressed that we all have an assumed knowledge of language, which cannot be learned, and therefore assumes that it must be innate. This theory therefore shows that it is not just specific language that this counts for but also for the general human language. This was the proposed that due to the theory of grammar and its universal limitations it describes the internal structure of the LAD and also children. (McNeill, 1970).
Chomsky challenges Skinners view on language acquisition and suggests that all language is formed from unpredictable stimuli, and that it is classified as stimulus-free and not stimulus-bound. (Cook and Newson, 2001) Chomsky strongly argues that the Skinnerian view cannot account for the basic facts about language. Also, the stimulus and response argument Chomsky believes is a disguise for the vagueness and the chain of reactions of the theory, as he suggests that it is more about the discovery of the stimulus from the response, rather than a prediction of response from a stimulus.(Cook and Newson, 2001)
Other researchers such as Slobin,(1973) suggest that the utterance of words in relation to deep structure, surface structure and transformational rules has given a great understanding of early language acquisition. The main aspect of language acquisition seems to be governed by many rules and develops in a systematical way.
Evidence which supports the biological approach of language acquisition, is that of theorist Pinker, 1994. Pinker suggests that it is a process which is universal due to the compelling need to repeat it over and over again for the reason that it is essential for them to know and it cant be helped. Pinker investigates the pidgin language and investigated how the language was formed and transformed by children adjusting them to make them into full languages.
Eric Lenneberg (1967) suggested that the acquisition of language was purely biological by claiming that verbal behaviour is linked to anatomical and physiological characteristics. He claims that the lateralization of the speech function in the left celebral hemisphere of the brain, and other parts in the brain show that we are born with the innate ability to learn language. He also suggests that there must be a biological influence in language acquisition as children who have parents who are deaf still acquire language without great delay.
Other evidence that supports the biological approach is that of the support of the Social Interactionist's. As mentioned earlier, the LASS model provided by Bruner, 1983, supports Chomsky's LAD as it acknowledges the strategies that adults achieve to support the language development for their child. Similarly the LASS accepts that it has the ability to be biologically programmed, however the LAD does not take into social and environmental factors.
On the other hand there is evidence against the Biological approach to language acquisition. A great influential case-study that shows both the effects of deprivation but also the development of humans, and leans support to the critical period theory. Genie was a deprived child who was lengthly abused by her parents, and locked in a small room with no contact until the age of 13. As Genie was not integrated with normal social environments, and was not exposed to language and speech, she passed the critical period of learning, and when she was discovered she could not speak. After intense language training she can now speak nouns verbs and a few adjectives, but her utterance s usually contain three or four words. This suggests that language does contain a critical period for learning but it also suggests that social factors are vital for the language acquisition. However, it does not give evidence against the biological approach as Genie is still capable of learning some words (Curtiss, 1977)
In terms of investigating whether there is evidence to support the statement that children are biologically “programmed” for language acquisition, there is a considerable amount. Chomsky's argument about the LAD model clearly shows the argument that it is programmed. Similarly does the Social Interactionsist view that it could be programmed, however doesn't take in the social factors. Whereas, on the other hand the behaviorist approach suggests that it is firmly a learned process. With the presented evidence, I feel that the presented evidence is sufficient to say that it is a biological process, however it must be used in a social context for it to be developed to its full potential.
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