Main Language Acquisition Theorists

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Noam Chomsky (Nativist)

Universal grammar - we are born with a set of rules about language 'hard-wired' in our brains

- The ability to learn language is an innate biological process

LAD (Language Acquisition Device)

- Allows children to absorb + apply grammatical rules

Critical Period

- LAD's must be activated with sufficient input before the age of 12 months

Virtuous errors

- The brain writes its own rules for words it has never been directly taught

- e.g. irregular verb such as "drank" - a child may say "drinked" because they are overgeneralising the regular suffix 'ed' to show past tense

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B. F. Skinner (behaviouist)

Reinforcement + punishment

- Operant conditioning

- Positive reinforcement = repetition of behaviour

- Negative reinforcement = no repetition of behavior

- All language is learned through positive reinforcement, mimicry + formation of habits

- Behaviourists believe language is developed through imitating other's language and gaining positive + negative feedback from adults

- Language is acquired through imitation (children repeat words they hear) + caregivers reward a child's efforts with praise

- Adults reinforce what the child say by repeating words + phrases back to them + correcting mistakes

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Lev Vygotsky

- Young children are actively involved in their own learning

- Places emphasis on social contributions to the process of development - social interaction

More Knowledgable Other (MKO)

- Someone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner with respect to a particular task, process or concept

Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

- Difference between what a child can achieve independently + what a child can achieve with guidance + encouragement from a skilled partenrr


- looks at how children have to have schemas to be able to support them - once accustomed to scaffolding it can be removed + they should be able to carry out the activity on their own

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Jerome Bruner (Social interactionist)

Language Acquisition Support System (LASS)

- From birth, children are surrounded by others who talk to them or with them. This communication plays a part in how the baby learns language

- Caregivers often encourage children to talk back by pointing things out + probing through questions

- Social interactionists argue that language acquisition is both a biological + social process

- Bruner believers that learners learn best when they discover knowledge for themselves

- Learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas based upon their existing knowledge. The learner selects + transforms information, constructs hypotheses, + make decisions

Ritualistic behaviours, such as peek-a-boo, help children in the process of language acquisition

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Jean Piaget

Cognitive theory

Emphasised importance of maturation + the provision of a stimulating environment for children to explore


Sensory-motor stage - birth to 2yrs - Children are using their physical or motor skills + their sense to explore their world + develop cognitive understanding

Pre-operational stage - 2-7yrs - Children less reliant upon senses + physical exploration - 'illogical' thinkers

Concrete Operations - 7-12yrs - Begginning to demonstrate more logical thinking

Formal-operation - 12yrs + - Encompasses the rest of our lives

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Halliday's functions

INSTRUMENTAL - Lang is used to fulfil a partic need - e.g. 'Want juice'

REGULATORY - Lang is used to influence other's behaviour

Lang is used to tell people what to do - e.g. 'Go away'

INTERACTIONAL - Lang used to develop social rships

Make contact with others - e.g. 'Love you mummy'

PERSONAL - Lang used to express ideas, opinions + personal identity - e.g. 'Me good girl'

REPRESENTATIONAL - Lang is used to convey facts + info

HEURISTIC - Lang is used to gain knowledge about the environment - e.g. 'What tractor doing'

IMAGINATIVE - Lang is used to create an imaginery environment - may accompany play

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Katherine Nelson


60% of children's 1st words are nouns

Studied 1st words of 18 children

Concluded that names of objects that are either small or easily handled, or objects that can make noise

One sign that children have a mature understanding of the referntial nature of words is when they point out things and ask about their names

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Catherine Garvey

Socio-dramatic play

studied pairs of children playing

children adopt roles + identities, act out storyline + invent objects

'pretend play'

Children play together bc it is enjoyable - also practices social interactions + negotiation skills

Involves social + dramatic skills

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Brown and Levinson

Politeness Theory

Positive face = an individual's need to feel wanted/liked/appreciated (self-esteem)

Negative face = an individual's need to feel able to choose, not to feel put upon (freedom to act)

Face threatening act = threatens our positive or negative face

Positive politeness strategies = minimises the threat to someone's positive face

Negative politeness strategies = minimises the threat to someone's negative face

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Jean Piaget - egocentric speech

'Egocentric speech'

When children talk to themselves, unaware of who is around them or not addressing someone else

Seen as a way of learning language

Give commentaries on what they are doing as it is carried out

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Wugs + Biks - plural inflections

Non-existent animals presented to children

Child asked to give the plural form

Found children applied the plural inflection -s to words they had never herd before

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Berko + Brown

Fis phenomenon

Child knew the pronunciation 'fis' was wrong when the parent said it

When the child corrects the parent they say 'fis' again

Child unaware they are pronouncing it wrong

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