Acquisition of Language in Children

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Possessing a language is a quintessentially human trait, yet the acquisition of language in children is not perfectly understood. Most explanations involve the observation that children mimic what they hear and the assumption that human beings have a natural ability to understand grammar. Behaviorist B.F. Skinner originally proposed that language must be learned and cannot be a module. The mind consisted of sensorimotor abilities as well as laws of learning that govern gradual changes in an organism’s behavior (Skinner, B.F., 1957). Noam Chomsky’s review of Skinner’s Verbal Behavior (Chomsky, 1959) challenged this belief by arguing that children learn languages that are governed by highly subtle and abstract principles, and they do so without explicit instruction or any other environmental clues. Therefore language acquisition must depend on an innate, species-specific module. Much of the debate in language acquisition has attempted to test this once revolutionary, and still controversial, collection of ideas. In this paper I will be discussing the evidence that supports Chomsky’s view of language acquisition, along with research that opposes his view. First I will be presenting a brief overview of Chomsky’s view on language acquisition, from there I will present supporting and opposing arguments from other researchers. Chomsky's linguistic theory is based on the following empirical fact: "children learn languages with limited stimuli", or the problem of poverty of evidence (Chomsky, 1959). Exposure to language is required for a language to be acquired, and thus environment and nurture are not entirely left out of the equation. However, this theory states that a child is born with an innate predisposition to a... ... middle of paper ... ... that can learn many things, and because we are extraordinary social animals that value communication. Or, does language emerge anew in every generation, because it is the best solution to the problems that we care about. Problems only humans can solve. These are the debates that have raged for centuries in the various sciences that study language. With the research consistently pointing towards an innate mechanism that is responsible for our language acquisition, I believe that the innatist view of language acquisition is partially correct. Where I think their view faults is where they claim that language will develop independently of input. All of the studies that I reviewed showed a correlation between the acquisition of language and the immediate linguistic environment. Without the proper exposure to language, we are unable to an extensive language faculty.
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