Nature vs Nurture



  • Skinner is from the behavourist school of thought.
  • His theories are based on studies of animals, he believes that language is like any learned behaviour, it is learned through imitation and positive and negative reinforcement (reward and punishment).

Arguments for Behaviourism:

  • Genie was never fully able to learn language- she wasn't nurtured well enough by her parents.
  • Regional dialect must be learned in this way.
  • Children do imitate lexis.

Arguments against Behaviourism:

  • There is no way of understanding if imitated speech has truly been understood.
  • Doesn't account for virtuous errors.
  • Theory is based on tests performed on animals.
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  • Chomsky and Lenneberg are Nativists
  • Nativists believe that we have an inbuilt ability to learn language.
  • Chomsky suggested that:

- If children only imitated they wouldn't have good enough material to produce correct grammar, which he called a poverty of stimulus.

- Imitation doesn't explain linguistic creativity.

  • Chomsky suggested that children have an inbuilt Language Acquisition Device (LAD) which suggests that all languages have similar features or a universal grammar.
  • Lenneberg suggested that the LAD has limitations, for example if at a certain age (around 10-12) there hasn't been sufficient imput, the ability to learn language will be "cut off". This is called the Critical Period Hypothesis.
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Social Interactionists

  • Bruner follows the Social Interactionist school of thought.
  • He believed that interaction was the most important thing, as it acts as a scaffolding in language acquisition. 
  • Interaction develops our ability to understand pragmatic and semantic meanings, and other elements of conversation, such as turn taking.
  • Bruner directly opposed the LAD, he called the interaction as a scaffolding for language acquisition, the Language Acquisition Support System (LASS)
  • Parents interact with their children even before they have a productive vocabulary, for example when the child has a nappy change. The child associates certain sounds with an activity and eventually understands it as a word.

Child Directed Speech (CDS):

  • This is the name given to social interactions between parents and children.
  • It will contain, simplified vocabulary, repitition, shorter utterances, exaggeration, and recasting, repeating what a child has said, but as a correction or with more information.
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Cognitive Theorists

  • Piaget and Vygotsky are cognitive theorists.
  • Cognitive theorists see language development as part of development as a whole.


  •  A child must understand a concept before they can talk about it, for example they can't talk in the past tense until they understand what the past is, and they can't use comparatives or superlatives until they understand seriation. Children often struggle to talk about things they can't see as they cannot grasp object permanence.


  • The more words we learn, the more we can think.

Pros: Promising results, applicable to almost all cultures.

Cons: Children with cognitive problems can use language above and beyond their apparent understanding, and children can still develop in other areas without having exposure to language (Genie).

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