English child language acquisition theorist



Skinner 1959, 

  • Children learn to speak through imitation of the language structures that they hear.
  • Parents automatically reinforce and correct children's utterances and this forms the basis or a childs knowledge of language.
  • Positive reinforcement= rewards.
  • Negative reinforcement= punishment.
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Evaluation of Behaviourism

  • Children do not seem to automatically pick up the 'correct' forms from imitation. Sometimes they overextend the language patterns that they already know.
  • Evidence suggests that child language acquistion cannot be based on imitation and reinforcement alone.
  • There is a difference between the child language being true or grammatically correct.
  • We are often more interested in them saying something that is true, than them saying it in a grammatically correct way.
  • It has been suggeted that over-correcting children's speech can have a bad effect, as there are some stages where children start to apply grammar, that they go through and learn naturaly. 
  • Now largely discredited.
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Nativists/ Innateness

Chomsky 1957/ Berko 

  • They believe that children are born with an innate capacity for language development. 
  • When the brain is exposed to speech, it will automatically begin to recieve and make sense of utterances because it has been 'programmed' to do so.
  • Chomsky suggest that the human brain has a language acquisition device (LAD) which enables children to use the language around them to work out what is, and what is not linguistically accepted.
  • The device provides young children with an innate understanding of the underlying grammatical rules that govern language usage. 
  • Chomsky came to the conclusion that although some linguistic interaction with parents/carers was necessary, there was a genetic element innate in the human brain. 

He argued that humans have an innate capacity for language. Chomsky believed that it could only be possible if we were all born with language's deep structures coded within our brains. This deep structure is the same for all humans. The grammar of different languages are transfromations into a surface representaion of the same deep structure. 

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Chomsky's linguistic universals

Chomsky's linguistic Univerals

  • The baby already knows about lingusitic universals. 
  • The baby hears examples of language in its native language. 
  • The linguistic universals help the baby to make hypotheses about the incoming language.
  • From these hypothess, the baby works out a grammar, set of rules. 
  • As more and more language is heard, the grammar becomes more and more like that of adults. 
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Evaluation of Chomsky


  • All children around the world go through very similar stages. 
  • Medical research also suggests there are specific areas in the brain to control language. 
  • However, these ideas do not suggest that language will be learned whatever happens, children still need some input and interaction. 

Problems with Chomsky: 

  • Chomsky did not pay attention to how children then developed, he just focus on the fact that they were hard wired for language. 
  • so while he accepted that interaction had an important role to play, he didn't say much to about the features of it, such as CDs.
  •  He never did any practical experiments, and mainly thought of his theory and hypothesised how it worked. others have added to his work to make it stringer. 
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Piaget 1959 / Vygotsky 

  • Links language acquisition directly to intellectual development. 
  • Piaget (1896-1980) suggested that children can only use certain linguistic structure when they understand the concepts involved .E.G children will only understand the past tense when they understand the concept of past time. 
  • as they grow, they develop an awareness of concepts from their physical experiences such as comparions of size, or tactile sensations like heat and cold, and they subsequently acquire the linguistic means to express these concepts.
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Problems with Piaget

  • There is no evidence of children with server learning difficuties and cognitive problems, who still manage  to use languge far beyond their actual understanding. 
  • This suggests that the link is not as strong as Piaget thought.
  • Language is unique in many ways, which makes it distinct from other areas of devlopment. 
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  • Adults alter the wy they talk to children, giving them specific opportunities to take part in the discourse. 
  • Utterances are simplified, intonation patterns are distinctive, extra information is given for clarification, and questions invite direct participation. 
  • Adults will also often expand on a child's sppech. 
  • This kind of interaction is called 'motherese' or 'caretaker sppech'. 
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