Language Acquisition

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The four theories of language acquisition are: Skinner’s theory, Chomsky’s theory and the Social Interactionist theory.

Skinner’s theory

Skinner, who was a Behaviorist, argued that language acquisition is like any kind of cognitive behavior – it is learnt by reinforcement and shaping. He also calls this operant conditioning – where the child goes through trial-and-error, in other words, where the child tries and fails to use correct language until it succeeds; with reinforcement and shaping provided by the parents gestures (smiles, attention and approval) which are pleasant to the child. Parents, whom ignore unfamiliar sounds and show increased attention to the reinforced phonemes, extinguish the acquisition of phonemes and morphemes. The morphemes then become refined into words by shaping. Parents’ accuracy will lead to total extinguishment of “baby” pronunciation and finally, by selective reinforcement and behavior shaping, words will be shaped into telegraphic two-word sentences, later into sentences until the full language has been acquired. Skinner differentiated between two types of verbal responses that a child makes. One of them, the mand is verbal behavior that is reinforced by the child receiving something it wants. For example, when the child sees a chocolate, it can show its own demand by calling out “choc”. As the child used appropriate verbal behavior, he then receives chocolate and reinforcement. The other one is tact, which is verbal behavior caused by imitating others. For instance, when a parent points at an object and says “ball”, the child imitates this word and the parent will then approve, which is just another form of reinforcement.

Chomsky’s theory

Chomsky, who was a linguist, argues that the ability of language acquisition is innate; therefore taking a biological approach-stand. Children will automatically acquire language by being exposed to it. There is no need for operant conditioning. This ability is supported by, what Chomsky calls a LAD (innate language acquisition device) an inbuilt mechanism that automatically allows a child to decode any spoken language it hears around it. Chomsky suggests that all languages share a similar deep structure despite the differences in their surface structure. For instance, “I did the homework” and “The homework was done by me” have the same deep structure but differ in the surface structure. The LAD supplies humans with the transformational grammar, which simply means the process of translating underlying meaning into speech. Children use these rules but will sometimes make errors, such as goed and comed (went and came). These are errors in performance not in competence, Chomsky claims.

Social Interactionist Theory

Supporting that the development of language comes from the early interactions between infants and caregivers, the Social Interactionist theory holds a more social factor-stand, including the ideas of the two previous theories. Snow suggested proto-conversations, which she called the conversations exchange between the caregiver and the infant. Trevarthen used pre-speech. However, probably one of the most known theorists here might be Bruner. He gave more significance to pragmatics, rather than the development of grammar. He suggested LASS – where turn taking of a conversation between a caregiver and an infant is necessary for development. The Social Interactionist theory does not neglect the previous theories, but gives an additional social perspective of language acquisition.

Comparing & Contrasting

Skinner and Chomsky’s theories contradict each other by Skinner suggesting that the behavior of language is learnt like any other cognitive behavior – and Chomsky holding a stand of language being innate – born with the ability. The Social Interactionist theory gives an additional perspective, more of in social terms and does not exclude either Skinner’s or Chomsky’s theories. However, the Social Interactionist theory is concerned more by the pragmatics of the language, unlike Chomsky whom gives a greater deal of significance to the development of grammar.
Even though the Skinner and Chomsky theories can be related to the Social Interactionist theories, the divisions of all of these three are different – the Social Interactionist theory is social constructivist – where the acquisition of language has its roots in the earliest infant-caregiver conversations. Yet, all of these theories are involved with some form of mechanism – either child directed speech, language acquisition device or language acquisition support system. Both Chomsky and Skinner’s theories were made during the mid-1950s (1954), whereas the Social Interactionist theory came approximately twenty years later than so, basing its additional theory on the possible two theories.

1.) How language acquisition is related to memory.

Types of Memory

Language acquisition has to be stored in memory, in order for us to speak – know what to speak, the context and how to speak (putting words in relevant order). We use different kinds of memory functions for different use of our language acquisition. The sensory memory concerns with senses, relevant to language acquisition – memorizing by the hearing system, also known as the echoic memory. This is kind of like an afterimage. This is when information travels through the brains and gets interpreted. The short-term memory is used for chunking the material that we have received – such as for studying a test or reading a text – how much can we remember out of what we read? The long-term memory is used for storing unlimited information. Long-term memory has been suggested to mainly encode meaning, which can relate to our language acquisition in the sense that we use the long-term memory to make sense out of what we talk – so that we just don’t throw different words without any context or meaning. “Door ball me come now,” for instance, are all correct words that are not of any context or meaning because of its order and choices of words. We know the meaning of these words because they are stored in the long-term memory.

Types of Encoding

There are three encoding types of memory – two of them that relate to language acquisition. The procedural memory is knowing how to do things; in this case, knowing how to talk. We are not consciously able to describe how we do them and we never seem to forget them (how many of us have forgotten how to talk?) Declarative memory concerns with the information we can describe or report. This type includes two parts (semantic and episodic memory) where one of these is related to language acquisition. The semantic memory concerns with what a word means (long-term memory).

Multi-store Model of Memory

The multi-store model of memory relates to language acquisition – on how language is acquired. We receive language through our sensory memory, but some of that information gets lost. Then this encodes and undergoes to the short-term memory, where some information gets lost (if not rehearsed). Through rehearsal, this information gets stored into our long-term memory, which explains how and why we can remember things by repeating them, i.e. studying for an exam.

Personally, I believe the combined version of the theories of Piaget, Vygotsky and Sapir-Whorf. Piaget believed that language only describes thought and that certain concepts had to develop before language could meaningfully describe them. Sapir-Whorf claimed that language determines thought. However, I do not believe that language determines; it rather influences thought and doesn’t only describe thought but does so along with influencing thought. This is simply because language expresses the thoughts. We all don’t get the thoughts from somewhere and think similarly; there has to be more to it. We all are individual and unique. All thoughts cannot be innate as we experience life and gain thoughts from the external world as well.

Different languages will influence thought differently, because different languages have different meanings to words. Our ability to use language to describe and express develops from when we are infants until we grow to the stage that we can use language properly. Thoughts are influenced by language because language broadens the understanding and meaning of thoughts as descriptions are functions that give a better understanding of a concept. For instance, when the “I have a dress”-statement is made, this could have a variety of meanings. However, if ...

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Inactive member [2005-04-10]   Language Acquisition
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