Language Acquisition Theorists

Description and examples of the key theorists/theories for Language Acquisition (AQA English Language B)

  • Created by: Dan Allen
  • Created on: 23-03-11 10:47

Cognitive - Jean Piaget


  •  Suggests you can only understand language when you understand the concepts behind it.
  •  e.g. Someone can talk in past tense when they know about time.
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Behaviorist - Skinner

  • Learn through imitation.
  • Doesn't explain where new sentences come from.
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Nativist - Chomsky

  • Language Acquisition Device (LAD)
  • Works out what is/isn't acceptable language use using innate programmed patterns (which are general).
  • Exact rules learnt through trial and error.
  • His theory supports the fact that children around the world seem to develop at a similar pace, irrespective of race/culture/mother tongue (This also 'defies' Skinner's model.)
  •  Also indicates the fact that there is a universal grammar amongst all world languages.
  • States that children consistently create new forms of language that they have not heard before.


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Nativist - John Macnamara

  • Differs from Chomsky in that he believes children read meaning into social situations.
  • He states that it is this, rather than LAD, that makes children capable of learning language.
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Importance of Social Interaction - Bard and Sachs

  • Studied a boy called 'Jim', who was son of two deaf parents.
  • Although he was exposed to T.V and Radio his speech development was especially slow.
  • This was rectified when he spoke to a speech therapist.
  • The results imply that human interaction is neccessary when children learn to talk.
  • Jim was ready to learn to speech but without the social interaction he was unable to do so.
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Interactive - caretaker, motherese etc

  • Slower pace than adult conversations.
  • Often simplified sentences and repitition used.
  • Tag questions used by parents to encourage responses and involve the child.
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Nouns - Katherine Nelson

  • Nelson found that 60% of children's early word phrases contained nouns.
  • She found that verbs, pre-modification and phatic followed.
  • She also said that the nouns were commonly things that surrounded the children e.g. ball, mum, cat.
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Halliday's Taxonomy

Michael Halliday came up with seven functions of speech:

  • Instrumental: To fulfil a need (e.g. "want milk")
  • Regulatory: To influence the behavior of others (e.g. "pick up")
  • Interactional: To develop and maintain social relationships. (e.g. "love you")
  • Personal: To convey individual opinions, ideas and personal identity (e.g. me like Charlie and Lola")
  • Representational: To convey facts and information (e.g. "it's hot)
  • Imaginative: To create an imaginary world and may be seen in play predominately (e.g. "me shopkeeper")
  • Heuristic: Learn about the environment (e.g. "wassat?")
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Dore's Language Functions

John Dore came up with eight functions of speech:

  • Labelling: Naming a person, object or thing.
  • Repeating: Repeating an adult word or utterance.
  • Answering: Responding to an utterance of another speaker.
  • Requesting action: Asking for something to be done for them.
  • Calling: Getting attention by shouting.
  • Greeting: Greeting someone or something.
  • Protesting: Objecting to requests from others.
  • Practising: Using language when no adult is present.
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