Language Acquisition Theorists

Chomsky - Nativist

Chomsky maintained that language structures can not be simply acquired by repeating language such as CDS, because of utterances being non-grammatical and incomplete. However, this now seems to be less valid, as studies of CDS features suggest that this register is more structured and regular than previously thought.

Chomsky has changed his idea over the years, although not from the core concept of childrens innate ability to learn language (nativism). His focus is useful to explain grammatical development, but you can see that it does not come all the way to explaining other aspects of language.


  • +Experience some stages of development at the same pace
  • +Resit correction
  • +Overgeneralisations
  • +Produce correct language when surrounded by 'impoverished' adult speech - false starts etc


  • -Need more input to give them other skills than grammar - Pragmatics
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Skinner - Behaviourist

Skinner's views have been largely discounted as a way of explaining language acquisition, although you might see that parents do use reinforcement when speaking to children and children do copy language heard around them.


  • Imitate accent and dialect
  • Learn politeness and pragmatic aspects of language
  • Repeat language they have heard around them and incorporate it into theirs - lexical knowledge must be gained from being told the right labels


  • Do more than just imitate language
  • Do not seem to respond to correction
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Lev Vygotsky - Play and Language Acquisition

Vygotsky, an early child development researcher, observed children's play and linked it to both cognitive development and social development. Young children often use props as 'pivots' to support their play but, when older, use their imagination instead. Vygotsky also observed how children role-play adults behaviours as part of exploring their environment, this has interested more recent researchers.

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Catherine Garvey

Garvey's study of pairs of children playing found that children adopt roles and identities, acting out storylines and inventing objects and settings as required in a role-play scenario. This is termed pretend play and fulfills Hallidays imaginative language function. Children play together because it is enjoyable, but it also practices social interactions and negotiation skills. Sometimes called socio-dramatic play, it involves both social and dramatic skills with explicit needs and referencing real world behaviour.

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Socio-dramatic play

Socio-dramatic play usually begins at 4 years old, possibly due to their cognitive skills and understanding as they understand the different roles people have and how these affect language. In their re-enacments they use field-specific lexis and structure them in some of the formulaic ways that adults use in precisely these situations, suggesting childrens real world immitations.

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Chomsky and Bruner

Chomsky believes that language occurs from an inbuilt language acquisition device (LAD), others like Bruner think that there must be a language support system (LASS). He particularly looked at ritualised activities that occur daily in young childrens lives - mealtimes, bedtimes, reading books - and how caregivers make the rules and meanings of these interactions explicit and predictable so that children can learn.

Bruner cites the game 'peak-a-boo' as an example of these educational rituals. Games accompanies by phrases like 'here I am' use prosidic features such as pitch and intonation, teaching children turn taking, syntax and formulaic utterances.

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