Language Development Theorists

Flashcards outlining the theorists surrounding language development.

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Skinner

  • Language is acquired through imitation and reinforcement.
  • Children repeat what they hear.
  • Caregivers reward children't efforts with praise.
  • They also reinforce what the child says by repeating words and phrases back and correcting mistakes. 
  • Children learn all the specific pronounciations of individual words by copying an adult.
  • Problems with the imitation theory:
    • Children can construct new sentences that they've never heard before they aren't always directly imitating.
    • They don't memorise thousands of sentences to use later, their development isn't directly based on repeating what they've heard others say.
    • Imitation doesn't explain overgeneralisations such as 'He runned away'. An adult wouldn't say such an error and so the children aren't copying them.
    • This theory can't explain things such as the Fis phenomenon. 
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Chomsky

  • A child's ability to acquire a language is inbuilt.
  • Language is a natural development that occurs when children are exposed to language.
  • Each child has a Language Acquisition Device (LAD) which allows them to take in and use the grammatical rules of the language that's spoken where they live.
  • Explains how children end up making overgeneralisations and why they acquire inflections in a certain order- their brains are pre-programmed to make this happen.
  • Evidence: All children pass through the same early stages of language acquisiton, before refining their range of sounds to their native language.
  • There are some common features of language known as linguistic universals. This suggests that all speakers acquire language in a similar way so it supports the idea that children have an LAD. 
  • Criticism - Underestimate the significance of Skinner's argument that interaction, imitation and reinforcement are important in language development. 
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Piaget

  • A child needs to have developed certain mental abilities before he or she can acquire particular aspects of language. 
  • At first a child can't mentally process the concept that something can exist outside of their immediate surroundings. This is called being egocentric.
  • By the time they're 18 months old children realise that things have object permenance- they can exist all the time even when they can't be seen. 
  • The child is then mentally better equipped to understand abstract concepts like past, present and future. 
  • Criticism - It doesn't explain how some people with learning difficulties are still linguistically fluent. This suggests that cognitive development and language development aren't as closely connected as the cognitive approach suggests. 
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Bruner

  • Suggests that there is a Language Support System (LASS)
  • The LASS is a system where caregivers support their child's linguistic development in social situations.
  • There are clear patterns of interaction between child and caregiver in everyday social situations like meal times and when playing. The caregiver talks to the child and encourages them to talk back by pointing things out and asking questions. As a result of this linguistic support the child gradually learns to play a more active part in social situations. 
  • Children who are deprived of language early on don't seem able to acquire it easily later.
  • Lenneberg proposed the Critical Period Hypothesis which states that without linguistic interaction before ages 5-6 language development is severely limited.
  • This view is supported by some rare cases where children without any exposure to language in the first five years of life subsequently fail to develop normal speech. For example, Genie.
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Vygotsky

  • Social interaction and experiencing different social and cultural contexts are very important for language development.
  • Identified two significant factors that contribute to language development- private speech and the zone of proximal development.
  • Private speech - When the child talks aloud to itself. A major step forward in a child's mental development. Evidence that the child is thinking for itself.
  • The zone of proximal development - When a child needs a caregiver's help in order to interact. They give the child a model to apply to similar situations in the future when it may need to respond without help. 
  • This support is known as scaffolding. Children require it less and less as they become more able to deal with different social and cultural situations on their own. 
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Conclusion

  • Language development cannot be explained by just one theory.
  • Theories of innate acquisition and cognitive developments do not take into account the role of interaction in the development of a child's language.
  • Theories of imitation and reinforcement can't explain the fact that some features of language apply to everyone and that all babies show similar cooing and babbling features, regardless of their native language. 
  • Most likely explanation is that all of these theories affect language development. 
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