A number of distinct theoretical positions have been identified - some of the main protagonists being, as any textbook account will reveal: Chomsky, who believes the child is born with specific linguistic knowledge; Skinner, portrayed as believing that language is entirely a matter of conditioning; Piaget, who sees language development as an outgrowth of general cognitive development; and Bruner, who emphasises the importance of the social/interactional context in which language development takes place.
Piaget, Clark, and others see the newborn as possessing only a few basic cognitive abilities. The more specific abilities we see in the developing child, they argue, are due to interactions with the environment and are independent of any inheritable code found in the genes. They place language skills in this category, and so they disagree completely with Chomsky’s assertion that humans inherit certain linguistic knowledge. In addition, proponents of the Nurture ideology view public language as a tool constructed by people for use by people, and they believe its development is due to Cultural Revolution, a completely different mechanism for change. Skinner’s theory
Skinner, who was a Behaviourist, argued that language acquisition is like any kind of cognitive behaviour – it is learnt by reinforcement and shaping. He also calls this operant conditioning – where the child goes through trial-and-error, in other words, where the child tries and fails to use correct language until it succeeds; with reinforcement and shaping provided by the parents gestures (smiles, attention and approval) which are pleasant to the child. Parents, whom ignore unfamiliar sounds and show increased attention to the reinforced phonemes, extinguish the acquisition of phonemes and morphemes. The morphemes then become refined into words by shaping. Parents’ accuracy will lead to total extinguishment of “baby” pronunciation and finally, by selective reinforcement...
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