Learning Language Through Structured Rules


In the language study, language is based on a set of structures or rules. These rules refer to the patterns of the language variety the child is learning. All language varieties rely on rules. Using the term “actively working out” we mean the

structure or rules based in language, cannot be worked out simply by imitating individual utterances. An example of this is how a child who says “drinked” instead of “drank” is over applying the rule. These mistakes are normally known as virtuous errors.

Noem Chomsky is a well known theorist. He focuses on the impoverished language input children receive. His theory is Innateness, meaning he believes a child’s brain contains special language learning mechanisms at birth. This means we have evolved a brain whose neural circuits contain linguistic information. Easily put, when a child hears speech the brain is able to interpret what she/he hears according to the structures it already knows. This is known as the language acquisition device (LAD).

To back Chomsky’s theory up we can look into the evidence of the human anatomy. Our bodies have adapted, for our bodies to introduce speech we have evolved a vocal tract to produce a wide range of vocal sounds. There is also relevant evidence into the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas of the brain. This relates to stroke victims as proof, where thy may suffer finding words an inerrability to use syntax depending on the location of the brain damage.

However Skinner who is a theorist supporting the behaviourism theory believes children imitate adults. Their correct utterances are reinforced when they get what they want or are praised, while unsuccessful utterances are then forgotten.

However there seem to be many objections to the behaviourism theory. There is evidence for a critical period for language acquisition relating back to Chomsky. The famous example is of a girl called genie discovered at the age of 13 years old that had been isolated and neglected from the outside world. Genie was very deprived and had no use of language. Her carers tried to teach her to speak. However she never became a fluent speaker.

Another criticism of skinners approach was Chomsky argued that children have an innate ability to extract the rule underlying language from the words they hear, spoken around them.

My final theorist I will refer to is Piaget, he believed in the cognitive theory where language is just one aspect of a child’s overall intellectual development. He argued that a child has to understand a concept before s/he can acquire the particular language from which expresses that concept.

An example is seriation. There is a point where a child can compare objects due to size e.g. if you gave a child a number of sticks the child could arrange them in order of size. He suggested if a child had not passed this stage they could not learn comparative adjective such as “smaller” and “bigger”. Again Chomsky argues against this as Chomsky believes a child exposed to language acquisition will happen happen automatically.

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