Language Acquisition Theories

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Researcher: Jerome Bruner.

  • Agreed with Chomsky on the existence of a LAD.
  • Believe input in vital in language acquisition.
  • Most largely believed theory.

LASS: Language Acquisition Support System. As well as a LAD you need a LASS, which works as a scaffolding system for language.

CDS: Child Directed Speach. Vital for the acquisition of language. Parents use CDS which includes exagerated mouth movements, more emphasised intonation and clear turn taking to encourage language from children.

FOR: Feral Children such as Genie cannot learn language without social interaction.

AGAINST: In some African tribal cultures there is no such thing as CDS but children still acquire language.

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Researcher: Jean Piaget.

  • There is a link between language and thought.
  • Development of language can be linked to cognitive development stages.
  • A child must understand the concept of something before they can verbalise it.

Development stages:

  • Object permenance: the ability to understand that objects exist outside of a child's interaction with it.
  • Classification: the ability to classify objects by single characteristics.
  • Seriation: the ability to classify objects on a scale such as size.

FOR: The development stages of cognition seemingly add up to stages of a child's language.

AGAINST: Children with impaired cognitive abilities can still learn language. Piaget also neglects language as a form of communication in his theory.

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Researcher: Tomasello.

  • Disagrees with the existence of a LAD.
  • Language acquisiton can be explained by looking at a person's cognitive abilties such as pattern recognition.
  • Grammar emerges from our use of language.

FOR: Halliday's seven functions of language, first satisfying physical needs and then looking at enviromental understanding seemingly co-ordinate with the development of cognitive ability.

AGAINST: It seems that a child's acquistion of grammar is seperate from cognitive development. Many also argue that the role of cognitive development is overstated.

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Researcher: Noam Chomsky.

  • Children are born with the innate ability to learn language in the form of a LAD.

LAD: Language Acquistion Device. A part of the brain that works to extract the underlying rules of grammar from language.


Researcher: Eric Lenneberg.

  • Lenneberg belives that input is needed to activate the LAD which needs to be activated before a certain time. At first he believed this to be around puberty age but now thinks its at about 5.

FOR: Berko's Wug Test and Children can understand new sentences they haven't heard before.

AGAINST: Under-estimates the importance of social interaction.

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Researcher: B. F. Skinner.

  • Children acquire language through the imitation of caregivers alone.
  • A child's mind is a blank slate at birth.

OPERANT CONDITIONING: Children learn right and wrong language through being rewarded with praise when they get something right and punished and corrected when wrong.

FOR: Phonological development of regional accents, children must imitate sounds.

AGAINST: Parents dont often correct or possitively or negatively reinforce children's language. Children are also often resistent to correction (Bellugi and Brown's 'Fis' Phenomenon)           Children cannot acquire grammar through imitation.

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DELETION: Children dont pronounce the final sound of a word eg. 'Pi-' for 'Pig'.                          Another form of this is where a child switches two sounds around in a word eg. 'Parcark'.               Another form of this is where a child deletes the unstressed syllable in a word eg. 'Nana'.

REDUPLICATION: The child repeats an entire syllable again eg. 'Woof Woof'.

SUBSTITUTION:  A child switches a difficult sound to make with an easier one eg. 'Debra'.

ADDITION: A child often adds a syllable to make a word end on an easier sound eg. 'Doggie.'

ASSIMILATION: Where the first consonant sound is influenced by the second eg. 'Babbit'.

VIRTUOUS ERROR: Where the child applies a standard rule of grammar to an irregular word      eg. 'Gooder'.

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