Child language Acquisition theories

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Child language acquisition theories

B.F. Skinner's imitation theory

Skinner claimed that children are good mimics and copy words from their parents. He also claimed that the idea of operant conditioning (reward and punishment) helps children learn language. 

Evidence for imitation theory:

  • FIS PHENOMENON - the child reacts if an adult pronounces a word incorrectly as they listen to the adults pronounciation so closely
  • GENIE - did not have the opportunity to copy language and therefore did not learn it
  • ACCENTS - if children do not copy adults sounds, how do they pick up accents?

Evidence against imitation theory:

  • OVERGENERALISATIONS - children would not hear an adult do this so they can't have copied
  • OVEREXTENSIONS - children would also not hear an adult do this
  • SENTENCES - children are able to string together sentences they have never heard before, therefore they can't be copied
  • REWARD AND PUNISHMENT - this cannot really be proved as it cannot be tested for ethical reasons

Chomsky's innateness theory

Chomsky's claims contrast with Skinner's imitation theory as he says language is not learnt through imitation. Chomsky claimed that language is acquired through their Language Acquisition Device (LAD) - part of the brain programmed for the child to learn language. He believes this feature is innate as children are born with the ability to learn language.

He said that children have instinctive knowledge of universal language structure - they already know what a noun is, what a verb is, etc.

Children follow the SVO order 'on carpet' but never 'carpet on' for example. They do this instinctively and they do not get confused by changing sentence formation.

Evidence for innateness theory:

  • BABBLING - all children babble, including deaf children who can't have heard language.
  • DEAF CHILDREN IN NICARAGUA - Some deaf children in Nicaragua made up…


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