Linguistics and Language

Topics: Linguistics, Language acquisition, Noam Chomsky Pages: 10 (3584 words) Published: March 28, 2014
Write about the 2 theories of 1st language acquisition and choose which most tenableand provide examples and relevant literature one you find Michelle
In this essay, I will explain as well as compare two theories of first language acquisition, behaviorism and innatism.  I will explore the differences between them in such categories as the role of the learner, the role of the environment and as well as their strengths and weaknesses. I will then state and explain which one I find more tenable with examples of relevant literature. Role of the Learner

Behaviorism, credited to B.F. Skinner in the 1950s, states that the learner knows nothing to start with, he is an empty slate [o1] to be taught. The learner is passive and learns by positive-negative reinforcement, only repeating what he hears. Innatism, credited to Noam Chomsky in 1965, states that the learner is wired from birth for language. The learner is equipped with a LAD, a language acquisition device. This device allows the learner to discover the rules of his language, any language. Role of the Environment

Behaviorism states that the role of the environment is key and vital to the learning process. The environment is the active agent while the learner is the passive agent. The environment produces the necessary language input for the learner. It is up to the environment to give positive and negative reinforcement for the learner. Innatism states that the role of the environment is minimal because it only acts as the trigger for learning. It is also thought the environment is flawed and can’t be relied upon to always give perfect information. Therefore, it is up to the learner to find the rules of the language[o2] . Strengths

There are a few strengths to support the behaviorism theory. It is easy to monitor the learners’ performance. This is how parents (as teachers) usually teach their children, through nurturing which puts emphasis on the role of the environment. This theory can also explain why learners have the ability to memorize. On the other hand, there are several strengths of the innatism theory. A learner cannot memorize all the possible different language and grammar combinations that he learns through the environment. The LAD helps the learner to generalize rules and make his own creative use of the language. A child will resist using an irregular form because of over-generalizing, and he will create his own form of a word according to the rules that he has internalized. And these rules don’t necessarily conform to adult grammar rules which include many exceptions. By applying these internalized and generalized rules, a child is able to acquire a language at a fast pace.[o3] Weaknesses

The Behaviorism theory only accounts for the performance of the learner, and not on his competence. The learner is passive, so this theory does not focus on the learner’s mind and knowledge. It also does not explain why children acquire a language so quickly even if they are exposed to different environments. In addition, this theory also doesn’t offer an explanation of why children over-generalize rules such as the simple past tense of irregular verbs even though they hear irregular forms in the environment. There are also several weaknesses to the Innatism theory. One of the first weaknesses is that it demands the existence of the Language Acquisition Device (LAD), its existence is difficult to prove and is immeasurable. This theory also doesn’t take into account different kinds of learners, just ideal learners with ideal grammar. The environment plays a minor role in this theory, so it doesn’t take into account the social aspect of the learner. My Opinion

Looking at the two of these theories, I find the Innatism theory the most tenable. In my own experience with my children and students, the learners do not always model my behavior. This usually occurs with irregular patterns, particularly past tense verbs. This is similar to the “wug” test where a child will form a...
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