Psychological and Philosophical bases of language acquisition mean viewing language from a psychological and philosophical perspective. It is the study of the cognitive elements of speech and language. It is mainly concerned with how language is processed and represented in the brain. This is known as psycholinguistics. The term was introduced by Jacob Robert Kantor, an American psychologist. Alan Garnham defines,
“Psycholinguistics is the study of the mental mechanisms that make it possible for people to use language. It is a scientific discipline whose goal is a coherent theory of the way in which language is produced and understood.”
The two main theories of language acquisition on psychological and philosophical bases include the following:
B.F. Skinner’s Behaviorist Theory Of Language
B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist theory of language was the widely accepted language acquisition theory during the late 1950s and 1960s. He believed that language is acquired under reinforcement principles. He argued that children acquire language through reinforcement practices and they associate words with meaning. He stated three main principles which include the following:
- “Behavior that is positively reinforced will reoccur; intermittent reinforcement is particularly effective.”
- “Information should be presented in small amounts so that responses can be reinforced (“shaping”)”.
- “Reinforcements will generalize across similar stimuli (“stimulus generalization”) producing secondary conditioning.”
Noam Chomsky’s Theory Of Innateness
In 1957, Chomsky introduced the concept of language acquisition device (LAD) which was used to account for the language acquisition competence of human beings. He believed that the acquisition of the first language is the function of the human brain or an innate structure. The introduction of UG or Universal Grammar is also credited to Chomsky.
Chomsky believed that humans are born with:
- LAD, a set of language learning tools.
- LAD is an abstract part of the human mind which enables humans to acquire and produce language.
- Since they are equipped with LAD, children can acquire rules of a language through hypothesis testing
- LAD transforms these rules into basic grammar.
According to Chomsky,
“the LAD explains why children seem to have the innate ability to acquire a language and accounts for why no explicit teaching is required for a child to acquire a language.”
Chomsky rejected Skinner’s Behaviorism Theory because he felt that there is more to language acquisition than stimulus-response. He rejected the idea of operant conditioning. He also believed that the theory was lacking and believed that innateness was an important aspect of language acquisition.