Linguistic Development Theories: Nature vs. Nurture

Despite a plethora of psychological, behavioral, neurological, anthropological, and linguistic studies of language acquisition, this process has not been exhaustively elucidated so far. Bloom explained language acquisition from the semantic-cognitive perspective; Tomasello construes language learning regarding interactions between humans. Chomsky’s nativist approach and Skinner’s behaviorism-based theory are milestone concepts of language learning although these approaches possess both strengths and weaknesses.

According to Burrhus Frederic Skinner, an eminent American psychologist, behaviorist, and social philosopher, language acquisition parallels learning any other behavior. He cogently proved that by providing reinforcements and various stimuli; parents control and guide the development of language skills in their children. Skinner applied the concepts of behavioral psychology and analyzed humans’ verbal behavior by using a functional approach. The scholar emphasized operant underpinnings of children’s language learning. One of his theoretical weaknesses is the underestimation of the biological contributions to human behavior. Moreover, his approach underrates the role of a child’s cognitive processes in language acquisition.

Contradicting Skinner’s viewpoints, Avram Noam Chomsky has developed an innovative approach to the process of language acquisition. He claims that “children learn language rules by deciphering them from the utterances they hear,” and their linguistic competence is congenital. Although adults often speak to children with intentional grammar errors, such as simplified shortened sentences or repeated words, children start producing correct syntactic constructions they have never heard before due to innate grammar abilities. The basic weakness of Chomsky’s theory is the ignorance of sociocultural impacts on children and their language learning processes.

Language acquisition is a multi-step and long-term process of developing language skills that assure the satisfaction of humans’ communication needs. Children’s utterances are the results of mental and cognitive processes characterized by specific goals, motives, and hierarchical structure. The development of language skills in children is mediated by the aggregate of all mechanisms of the human brain, including perceptual, imitative, cognitive, and stimuli-caused. Also, influences exerted by the external environment and social interactions on language acquisition are undeniable.

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