Theories English



Chomsky's theories

Chomksy proposed a nativist view on Child Language Acquisition, and is notable for developing the LAD or Language Acquisition Device. This went against traditional views that the brain was like a blank slate, which was the generally accepted to be true. He suggested that the brain actually has a pre-programmed ability to learn language, and work out systems involving grammar and syntax. The similarites between seemingly unconnected languages despite their origin distances supports this. The theory uses the idea of Virtuous Ideas, and it is considered a justification of LAD. Virtuous Ideas suggests that a child makes errors in their syntax, grammar and inflections because they are attempting to apply these rules to language around them. For example, a child saying 'I swimmed' is actually quite logical, as they have said the past tense correctly and is following the general rule with past tense words. 

However, it has been rejected theory because it does not place sufficient importance on the role of caregivers to influence CLA. This is evidenced by Genie, who after being left in isolation for 13 years could learn basic words for many things, but didnt have the capacity to learn grammar and syntax. Despite this, it could be argued that children go though a critical period, where they can learn language and that LAD only applies during this 5 year period. 

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Jean Piaget

Jean Piaget's theories

Jean Piaget was a highly influential developmental psychologist and a key figure in the 20th century field of child development. His book, The Language and Thought of a Child and proposed stages through children progress as their language matures and develops. He focused primarily on cognitive development. In this book, he suggests that the core of a childs development would not develop until paticular stages. (Stages outlined in next flashcard)

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Piaget's stages

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Jerome Bruner and Social Interactionism

Jerome Bruner

Bruner rejected Chomsky's LAD and instead focused on the importance of the caregiver. Instead, he pushed the importance of LASS or Language Acqusition Support System. This refers to the caregivers and other important participants within a childs life and the role they play in developing the language of children. He suggested that children learn language with parents throught the process of scaffolding, and this enables their speech to gradually develop. Rather than focusing on positive and negative reinforcement akin to Skinner, Bruner focused more on the need of quality input from caregivers to facilitate learning. For example, if a child saw a zebra and said horse the caregiver could correct the child. 

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Lev Vygostsky


Vygotsky was a Russian developmental psychologist who's ideas became influential in the 70's. He suggested the importantance of 'doing' for a child to develop, and also focused on the importance of the caregiver to act as a more knowledgeable other. Through supporting the child from a position of having more knowledgable and understanding, the adult can direct the child to move within the zone of proximial development. (The area between what a child can already do and is out of reach). The caregiver would offer the necesarry support to scaffold the child and develop its language. 

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Cognitive Linguistic Approach

Cognitive Linguistic

A further rejection of Chomsky's ideas on a universal grammar from the researchers working in cognitive linguistics. For example Micheal Tomasello (2003) outlines a usage-based model, which is a model which suggests that language structure emerges from use in linguistic patterns and this forms grammatical constructions. He argued against Chomsky's theory of LAD, and suggested that language is actually a primarily social feature of being human, and indeed uses the same cognitive processes as learning, walking and drawing. In his studies, Tomasello found that by the age of 9-12 months children make use of a pattern forming ability that allow them to learn about different forms and functions of single words, and from this children build generalisations about how those words form larger constructions. Rather than being the result of some in built system, Tomasello believes children build from the ground up an understanding of language. This explains cultural differences, and how languages form differently in some places in the world. For example, how some languages have completely different grammatical rules, for example Japan having two alphabets. 

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Skinner and Behaviourism

Skinner was a psychologist and a key representative of his behaviouist theory. His book, 'Verbal Behaviour' published in 1957 showed that through his experiments with rats and pidgeons all behaviours could possibly be created by reinforcement. He proposed that children like the animals learn through operant conditioning, or imitation. He proposed that spotaneous behaviours occur, and it would either be avoided or repeated depending on the reinforcement. For example, a mother might praise her son for correctly saying a sentence and so the child is more likely to repeat it for more praise. Or, if the child says it incorrectly the mother may give a less favourable response which encourages the child to change his behaviour. A problem with this is that parents aren't nazis, and wont constantly correct every minor detail in a developing childs vocabulary. An argument against Skinner's imitation theory is that start magically producing perfect English sentences but build their development over a period gradually. 

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