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Is Language Innate?

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Sahana Sekaran

on 20 March 2013

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Transcript of Is Language Innate?

NATURE NURTURE IS LANGUAGE INNATE? Nature vs. Nurture Are we pre-wired for language acquisition?
Are there specialised mechanisms in our brain for language learning?
Or do we learn language in the same way we learn about the physical and social world? Nature vs. Nurture Nativism Children create language
Language is independent from other cognitive functions
Language learning is largely a result of maturation
Language is hardwired in the brain in its special circuit (e.g. Broca's area is where Grammar is dealt with) Non-Nativism Children discover language
Language is not independent from other cognitive functions
Language learning is the result of maturation and general learning mechanisms and properties of the input Skinner (1956) - Behaviourist Theory Intuitively, many people perceive language learning to be a product of nurture
Children are seen to imitate what they hear, being praised when they get it right and corrected when they get it wrong
Different aspects of this process were emphasised by different learning theorists Emphasised the importance of reinforcement in learning language
Proposed language was an "operant" that developed in children as a function of external reinforcement and shaping
Infants learn language in a similar fashion to how rats learn how to press a bar - through monitoring and management of rewards
Children imitate what they see and hear and learn from punishment and reinforcement Skinner (1956) - Behaviourist Theory Adults can shape the speech of children by reinforcing the babbling of infants that sound the most like words
Parents and other adults praise meaningful speech and correct errors
Children are also reinforced by getting what they want when they speak correctly Evidence for Behaviourist Theory Vygotsky - Social Interactionism Theory Language development occurs in the context of social interaction between the developing child and the knowledgeable adults
Adults are said to model language usage and "scaffold" the child's language acquisition Vygotsky - Social Interactionism Theory Strongly influenced by Vygotsky's socio-cultural theories:
Zones of proximal development - describe the "distance between the actual development level, and the level of potential development"
Whilst in this zone of proximal development, children are provided with necessary tools and assistance ("scaffolding") for learning
Learners construct the new language through socially mediated interaction However, learning theories did not account for how syntactical rules are acquired by children
E.g. when a child looking a picture of a cow says "Her cow"
(accurate, but gramatically incorrect)
Mother is likely to provide reinforcement
Whereas if child says "There's a dog, mommy"
(grammatically correct, but untruthful)
Mother would correct the child Brown, Cazden & Bellugi
(1970) Chomsky - Nativist Theory Imitation and reinforcement not sufficient to explain language acquisition
"The poverty of the stimulus"
Input from environment is not enough to learn the complex grammar systems in the speed that children acquire language
Even when inductive reasoning abilities are similar between human baby and baby ape....
When exposed to exactly same linguistic data for same time
Baby ape can never acquire language whereas a human baby will
Evidence that humans must have some innate capacity to learn language Tomasello (2000) - Evidence for Innate Theory In first word combinations - when infants can only generate 2 word sentences
When they generate these 2 word sentences we can still understand what they mean
Potentially a working memory deficit as to why they generate sentences in this way rather than not understanding grammar Chomsky (1975) - Language Acquisition Device (LAD) Put forward that humans have an inborn mechanism for developing language - the language acquisition device
Automatically detects the rules of a language
To learn to speak, children only need to hear other humans speak
Then, using their LAD, can grasp rules of particular language they are hearing Evidence for language development in absence of input 6 deaf children (ages 2-4 years) of hearing parents
Unable to acquire oral language naturally and had not been exposed to a conventional manual language
They were found to invent and use a gesture system with structural characteristics of early child language
i.e. invented words and combined them in structured sentences with consistent word order
These structural aspects were neither modeled by gestures of adults or their responses to them
Suggests that these children contributed to the structural aspects of the language system NATURE AND NURTURE Whilst there may be truth in importance of biological capacities, two limitations of nativism:
LAD may describe linguistic development but does not explain it
The approach seems to underestimate the influence of the child's language environment The theory makes 3 bold assumptions:
language development needs only exposure to speech
highly powerful mind is need to detect regularities in language
adults give little feedback when it comes to grammar Interactionist Theory Most current thought that language acquisition depends on both nature and nurture
Development of language is an interaction of the biologically based competencies of children and their language environment (Bohannon & Bonvillianm 2005)
Acquisition of language said to depend on acquisition of many other mental capacities; perceptual, motor, social and emotional
E.g. infants first begin to use words as meaningful symbols parallel to when they begin to display non-linguistic symbols such as gestures and pretend play (Sigelman & Rider, 2008) Evidence for interaction between nature and nurture Adults use different speech when speaking with young children
Short, simple sentences spoken slowly, with a high pitch, often with repetition and with exaggeration of key words are key characteristics of child-directed speech
Mothers convey more exaggerated emotions when speaking to their children than with adults (Kitamura & Burnham, 2003)
Toddlers pay more attention to high-pitched sounds and such child-directed speech than to the speech that adults use among themselves (Cooper et al., 1997)
Child-directed speech is constantly changing in the response to the child's utterances (Gros-Louis et al., 2006) Evidence for interaction between nature and nurture Adults also foster certain communication strategies that help language development by expanding on a child's sentence with a more grammatically correct version
E.g. a child who says "Kitty good" would be replied with "Yes, that cat is very good"
This technique of expansion is used mainly to improve communication, not grammar (Penner, 1987)
However, Bohannon and Stanowicz (1988) argue that these techniques do serve as a subtle form of correcting grammar by showing the child more grammatical ways to express their ideas
This is contrary to the idea that adults do not teach grammar CONCLUSION Evident that characteristics of language development depend on child learning and imitation
Process of praising and reinforcing children is important
Even though nativists claim that grammar is not taught to children - now evidence that this is not true - Snow (1976) - Dutch children
However, fact that different children in different environments go through same learning sequences and make the same kind of errors suggests language us partly innate
Interactionist thought seems to gel the two conflicting ideas to provide best explanation Chouinard and Clark (2003)
Longitudinal data from 5 children between ages of 2 and 4 (3 learning English, 2 learning French)
Findings:
Child: Mamma isn't boy, he's a girl
Mother: That's right, she is a girl
Reinforcing correct response and also correcting
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