Learning theory accounts have not fared well as a sole explanation of language acquisition for several
reasons. 1. The number of stimulus-response connections- specific linkages between a baby’s
vocalization and a parent’s reinforcing response is so big a child could not acquire all of them even in a
lifetime. 2. Naturalistic studies of parent-child interaction fail to support the learning theory account
e.g. mothers will reward for grammatically incorrect but truthful statements. 3. We can’t predict the
vast majority of language utterances from opportunities to observe specific utterances by others. 4.
Learning theory accounts have not explained the regular sequence in which language develops. (learn
active constructions before passive for eg.) 5. Learning explanation basically portrays the child as
playing a passive role in language development, although as evidence we discuss later shows the child
plays an active and creative role in discovering and applying the general rules of language
Nativist view suggests that language acquisition unfolds as a result of the unique biological properties
of the human organism.
Noam Chomsky proposed that children are born with an innate mental structure that guides their
acquisition of language and in particular grammar. This is the language acquisition device LAD.
Nativists argue that the human child is biologically predisposed to acquire human language. They say
that because language ability is an inherited species-specific characteristic, all language of the species
must display universal features: they must share certain basic characteristics
All languages have grammars and nativists claim that these grammars share certain formal properties
Nativists argue the child must be biologically prepared to acquire language. They also argue children
learn language quickly and well.
Support for nativist view: human beings learn language far more easily during a certain period of
A critical period is a time during which a child is sensitive to a particular environmental stimulus that
does not have the same effect when encountered before or after this period. CP for language is from
infancy to puberty. After puberty special training is needed and it is still hard.
Others don’t believe in CP and argue that according to the critical period hypothesis, there should be a
rapid decline in learning at the end of the critical period, which would be consistent with a learning
mechanism being turned off at a particular age and not with a decline after the end of the critical
period that would be related to increasing age.
English proficiency showed its sharpest decline in language skills with increasing age, a pattern
inconsistent with the critical language hypothesis.
Hakuta also examined and failed to find a pattern of learning consistent with CP
An alternative to a critical period explanation is that advantages typically shown by children in
secondary language learning could be due to the fact that children have a more nurturing
environment, better educational opportunities, receive simplified input and so on. Against Nativist theory: animals can learn language.but this depends on the definition of language. If
definined as symbols, then yes. But it is often defined as understanding word order and novel and
understandable speech. S
Some evidence of language in African grey parrot and dolphin. They are at level of 2 year human and
lack the use of prepositions and conjuctions.
Limitations of nativist view: 1. Few theorists agree about the exact nature of the types of grammatical
rules that children learn. 2. Language learning is a gradual process and is not completed as early as
nativist accounts would predict. 3. It makes it very hard to account for the many languages human
beings speak. Nativist view gives social context of language little recognition.
That language milestones are acquired in a universal stage is not empirically supported
The Interactionist View
Most take this approach recognizing that language is learned in the context of spoken language but
assuming as well that humans are in some way biologically prepared for learning to speak. Language is
seen as the integration of learning in multiple domains.
Language development occurs in a rich behavioural and developmental context in which children try
to accomplish meaningful goals and engages in relationships with others.
Goodman refers to nature of nurture as truing to discover what biological contribution is for
Facilitating Children’s Language Development
Jerome Bruner= environment provides the language learning child with a language acquisition support
system LASS. This view emphazises parents’ role as facilitators of language acquisition
Adults facilitate language acquisition through playing non-verbal games, using simplified speech and
elaborating on and rewording children’s own utterances to help them sharpen their communicative
(peek a boo or pat a cake) children learn structural features of spoken language through non verbal
games like taking turns.
At first, babies don’t talk so parents do the talking, and when it comes to baby’s turn, parents pause for
infant’s vocal or motor behaviour and then respond appropriately.
Using simplified speech= infant directed (motherese) or child directed.
In motherese, short simple sentences that refer to concrete objects and events and that often repreat
important words and phrases. Parents talk slower, higher pitched voices.
The simplified grammar and syntax may help children learn the relations between words and objects
and may also give them some understanding of the rules of segmentation ( how speech divided)
Infant directed speech elicits positive emotions in babies and many actually increase the chances that
children will understand the message. Beneficial for 6 to 7 month olds to discriminate different vowel
sounds but not beneficial once past beyond one word stage.
A level of complexity slightly beyond children maximizes learning. In general, parents adjust speech to
a child’s level of linguistic sophistication. In the technique of expansion, the adult imitates and expands or adds to the child’s statement. This
facilitates language development, including vocabulary.
Parents are especially likely to use this expansion strategy after a child made a grammatical error.
Lower income parents use this technique less.
Although social interaction is necessary for language acquisition, the specific devices of expansion,
recasting, and imitation may not be necessary. 1. No universal pattern characterizes all parents within
a cultural group. 2. Not all cultures use the devices typical of the north American middle class
Recast is when the adult listener renders the child’s incomplete sentence in a more complex
Children imitate their parents’ expansions and recasts esp when their utterances are incorrect. When
their speech is correct they are unlikely to imitate.
Those who hold interactionist view say that although the child is biologically prepared for learning
language, there is a strong support for the role of environmental input in the child’s development of
A mother’s responsiveness to infant activity at 9 and 13 months predicts language development
Maternal responsiveness is any meaningful positive response up to 5 seconds after child does or says
The Antecedents Of Language Development
Smiles are important in helping infants learn how to coordinate vocalizations and to translate
expressions into effective communication
Pseudo dialogues- adult responsible for maintain the flow. Adults insert behaviour into infants cycle of
responsiveness and unresponsiveness
Between 3 and 12 months of age, infants improve greatly in their ability to use gestures to
At 6 months they use pointing gesture. But only at 1 yr can they follow the point of another person
When a pre-verbal infant uses a gesture to call an object to someone’s attention= proto declarative
When babies can also use gestures to get another person to do something for them it is called a proto-
Other common gestures= reaching, grasping and staring. All these gestures= joint visual attention,
which is the ability to follow another person’s focus. Some controversy as to if it occurs at 6 mnths or
In 3 year of life they learn that gestures and language can be integrated into one. Across time, they
rely less on gestures and more on language.
Infants perceive some consonants categorically. They hear one range of acoustic signals as /p/ and
another as /b/ but no acoustic signal is perceived as something in between them. This is the categorical
speech perception, or the phoneme boundary effect.
Ability to discriminate between bah and gah is evident at 1 month and holds true for m, n, and d. 2
month old can differentiate a and i and 2 -3 months can differentiate the same vowel
Not all infants in studies show phonetic boundaries Because other mammals can perceive boundary sound patterns, categorical speech perception may be
a property of all mammals.
Infants can identify key properties of their native language’s rhythmic organization either prenatally or