What is the Difference between Skinner and Chomsky’s Views on Language Acquisition?

Language acquisition refers to the process in which children acquire their native language. It is characterized by structural information from the language they hear and internalizing it for future use.

The differences between Skinner and Chomsky’s views on Language Acquisition are as follows.

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:

  1. “Behavior  that  is  positively  reinforced  will  reoccur;  intermittent  reinforcement  is particularly effective.”
  2. “Information should be presented in small amounts so that responses can be reinforced (“shaping”)”.
  3. “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:

  1. LAD, a set of language learning tools.
  2. LAD is an abstract part of the human mind which enables humans to acquire and produce language. 
  3. Since they are equipped with LAD, children can acquire rules of a language through hypothesis testing
  4. 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 more to language acquisition than stimulus-response. He rejected the idea of operant conditioning. He also believed that the theory was lacking and thought that innateness was an important aspect of language acquisition.

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