Psycholinguistic: Linguistics and Language

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PSYCHOLINGUISTIC THEORIES OF
LANGUAGE ACQUISITION AND THE
SAUDI LEARNER OF ENGLISH

Jasser Abdulrahman Al-Jasser, Ph.D

ABSTRACT

This study seeks to determine the relevance of the behavioristic and cognitive approaches for Saudi learners’ acquisition of English as a foreign language (EFL). A special attention is given to learners in EFL programs at the University level. It also assesses the effectiveness of these approaches on student in translation program as well. One contention is that while behaviorist-inspired structuralist methodologies are best applicable at the beginning levels, transformationalist/cognitivist approach contributes tried methodologies to enhance the learners’ written and spoken skills in advanced stages. Advances in translation can be achieved through a study of the process of translation with an emphasis on a deductive rather than an inductive approach.

INTRODUCTION

Foreign language teachers have long been perplexed by a continuum of abundant psycho-linguistic theories. One approach is the traditional method to second/foreign language teaching and learning. This embodied the grammar translation method which developed at the end of the eighteenth century in Germany and spread throughout Europe (Howat, 1984). The second approach is the direct method that developed in the late nineteenth century as a reaction against the grammar-translation method (R.Carter, 1993). Prior to the time of Chomsky, “little was known about the process of second language acquisition, and thus (traditional approaches) were grounded in the linguistic, psychological, and pedagogical theories of their day.”(1) The author has conducted literature search through Educational Resources Index (Eric) was well as Languages Association (MLA) and Psychological Abstracts (Psyclit). It has been noticed that some work, mostly dissertation, have dealt with the Saudi acquisition of specific linguistic features of L2, such as Morpheme acquisition Order (Al-Afaleg, 1991), Temporal Conjunctions (Noor, 1991), English Derivational Morphology (Al-Qadi 1992) Tense and Aspect (Farraj, 1995) and Second Language Relative Clauses (Maghrabi, 1997), and Studies on the psycho-linguistic theories of language acquisition, specifically in relation to the Saudi learner of English do not seem to exist. There are four major theories of language acquisition and language learning which many psycholinguists and applied linguistics are familiar with:Behaviorism, neo-behaviorism, cognitivism, and humanism. The purpose of this article is to examine two of these theories: Behaviorism (which is related to structuralism) and cognitivism (which is related to transformationalism) and then show the extent to which these two theories relate to language learning and particularly to Saudi learners enrolled in EFL and translation programs in King Saud University.

STRUCTURAL (BEHAVIORISTIC) VIEW:

The psychological theory behind behaviorist linguistics was founded by J.B. Watson (1942).(2) The extreme behavioristic stand-point is characterized by B.F. Skinner’s well-known study, Verbal Behavior (1957) which presents a theory of language learning even more firmly planted in the court of Pavlovian animal behavior than the language theories of the Russian behaviorist school which was itself greatly influenced by the work of Pavlov. The work that could be regarded as the basic doctrine of the structural school of linguistic theory was Leonard Bloomfield’s Language (1933). In this work, Bloomfield argued that the study of language could be pursued without reference to psychological doctrines and he took a firmly behavioristic line aimed at scientific objectivity. Bloomfield did not deny the role of meaning in language, but he objected to its importance in the study of language at a time when human knowledge of the...
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