Competing Theories Of Language Acquisition Influence English Language Essay

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Skinner proposed that children learn receptive language as a result of classical conditioning where associations between arbitrary verbal stimuli and internal responses form the basis of word meanings (Staats 1971)

Skinner proposed that children "learn" productive language as a result of operant conditioning (Berko Gleason)

Definition operant conditioning - Miltenberger

Observable and measurable language behaviour (Berko-Gleason)

Avoid grammatical rules as this is implicit knowledge - not measureable with no specific measureable correlate (Zimmerman and Whitehurst 1979)

Stimulus, response, reinforcement - three term contingency - generalised reinforcement (Skinner 1957)

Learning language similar to learning any other behaviour (Owens 2012)

Skinner claimed in his seminal work Verbal behaviour that children receive reinforcement for uttering certain sounds - in the form of parental encouragement (Skinner 1957) e.g. child says …. And mam does…

As a result of this, language is acquired through a gradual accumulation of vocal symbols and sequences of symbols (Bernstein). Parents and others interacting with the child model the appropriate utterances that children imitate and practice (Bernstein)

This example explains the learning of single words, but Skinner claimed there was significant differences between words - the functions of language e.g. tact vs. mand (Harris 1992) - DEFINE

Training rather than maturation of the child (Berko Gleason)

Behaviourists assume that word combinations are acquired in the same manner as single words (Berko Gleason)

Speaking and comprehending speech is brought under the control of stimuli by reinforcement, imitation and repeated approximations to mature performance or shaping (Berko Gleason)

Evidence for - 200 words

Applied behaviour analysis (ABA)… employing techniques such as shaping and reinforcement have been used in teaching language to children with intellectual disability (Sailor 1971) and autism (Lovaas 1977, 1987)

Classical conditioning can train adults to change their emotional response to a word if it is presented with an aversive stimulus (Staats, Staats and Crawford, 1962) - however adults have already acquired language

When compared with simple modelling of words, "imitation training" was more likely - children used a targeted linguistic rule in novel sentences (Whitehurst and Novak, 1973)

Palermo and Eberhart (1968) trained adults in a nonsense language to show similarities with processes involved in child language acquisition - as children learning English do - adults learned the frequent irregular forms before they generalized the regular rule to irregular forms- Palermo and Eberheart therefore proposed that children's overgeneralizations resulted from typical learning patterns that stem from the frequency distribution of materials to be learned - but adults already acquired language

P 69 (Harley)

Recent literature - Although many suggest that behaviourists fail to test their assumptions in a naturalistic setting, Applied behaviour analysis - research for past 50 years - see old ABA notes e.g. Sundberg etc. VB-MAPP

Evidence against - 200 words

Main objection - Skinner failed to address the role of syntactic knowledge in language competence - cannot learn syntax through a set of learning principles (Chomsky) - in a naturalistic environment, if a learning factor successful in the lab doesn't occur in the child's natural environment then that factor cannot explain language acquisition (Berko Gleason) impossibility of children learning all constructions by imitation, parents provide poor models when talking to each other, parents often fail to reinforce the grammatically correct constructions of young children (Owens)

Bandura and Harris (1966) children do not always learn the modelled grammatical form

Several studies have shown that parents were more likely to respond with positive praise when the semantic content of an utterance was true, rather than when the syntactic form of the utterance was correct (Berko Gleason) e.g. Molfese (1977) brains of newborns responded asymmetrically to speech and nonspeech stimuli

Although imitation has been shown to be effective, children's language is creative and imitation is used infrequently beyond age 2 (Carol-Anne)

According to Miller (1965), the total amount of possible sentences in languages is so vast that it would be impossible to learn each one through environmental stimuli.

Assumption that language is just another behaviour - challenged - There is much evidence to suggest that humans process language stimuli differently than other stimuli (Berko Gleason)

Chomsky (1959) - Skinner focused too much in the process of language acquisition and ignored the content being learned (Bernstein)

Chomsky (1959) - Chomsky highlighted - children produce utterances they have never heard adults use e.g "I goed", "Mouses"

ABA - however this does not explain language development in typical developing children (Berko Gleason)

In Palermo and Eberhart paper - adults had extensive knowledge of the distributional frequencies of regular and irregular verb forms in English which may have had an impact on their learning

Importance of maturation is overlooked e.g. McNeill (1966)

Recent literature

Theory 2: Linguistic - 500 words

Introduce theory - 100 words

Many changes to this theory over the years

Contrary to Skinner's account of language acquisition, Chomsky claimed that language involves the acquisition of a body of language, first describing such knowledge as a set of rules (Chomsky 1965) and second describing language knowledge as a set of principles and parameters (Chomsky 1986)

the idea that a Language acquisition device (LAD) contained such knowledge, present in each human at birth in a specific location in the brain (Owens 2012) - considered it innate or prewired and analogous with the growth of organs (Chomsky 1979)

Activated by exposure to linguistic input (Bernstein)

The LAD contains two parts: a set of rules/principles for forming sentences and a set of procedures for examining how these rules apply to the child's ambient language (Bernstein)

In 1981, 1999 - Chomsky revised his theory to take into account language rules and well-formedness as well as for language learnability - result - government-language binding theory (GB theory) -

GB Theory was then extended to the Minimalist Program (Chomsky, 1995) or the Principles and Parameters theory

Bernstein - attempts to explain diversity in human language and accounts for grammar development with a limited input - Chomsky 1999 - these rules = universal grammar

Switch-box - setting of parameters according to language (Chomsky 1997)

Universal language rules across languages (Owens 2012)

The modularity of language

Chomsky (1957) focused more on language competence rather than performance, i.e. a true grammar should describe knowledge of all possible utterances rather than utterances actually emitted.

The child as active, creative rather than passive as in Skinner (McLean and Snyder McLean 1999)

Evidence for - 200 words

Cross-cultural evidence has contributed to evidence on Chomskyian theory e.g Slobin (1982) young children are likely to use subject-object word order, in spite of the order used by older speakers of their ambient language

Slobin's (1985a, 1985b) hypothesis that each child is born with set of rules for language making- suggested that babies are preprogrammed to focus their attention on the beginnings and ending of strings of sounds and stressed sounds - this view was cemented by Morgan's (1994) evidence

Overgeneralization of the rule for regular past tense to irregular past tense - children would not hear this in adult speech (Bohannon and Bonvillian)

All infants, including deaf infants, babble using phonetic productions of all languages - this ability is lost at 6 months where children learn to adapt to their ambient language - Owens

The idea of a critical period for the acquisition of language would also support linguistic theory - Harley

Evidence of genetic predisposition to language disorder - Risk and Aetiology Notes

The concept of species-specificity: humans are the only species to be able to produce infinite combinations of linguistic symbols - Harley

Recent literature

Evidence against - 200 words

Chomsky treats language learning as separate to cognitive development (Bernstein)

Sinclair-deZwart (1973) language dependent on cognitive development

Schlesinger (1977) - impossible to know the difference between the language knowledge children are born with and the language knowledge they come to develop

It is impossible to ignore environmental influences (Berko Gleason)

There is often a tendency for adults to imitate a child's correct utterance and recast their errors (Bohannon and Bonvillian)

Children respond to adult recasting by changing errors into correct forms

An argument against the "species-specificity" of language- other species can distinguish between speech and non-speech stimuli

Fails to capitalise on the functional aspect of language (Bohannon and Bonvillian)

Semanticists claim that language acquisition is due more to semantic representation than underlying syntactic principles e.g. Fillmore, 1968

Sociolinguists argue that linguistic input is too fragmented, confused, unsystematic to enable the acquisition of language (Bernstein) - parental input e.g. Nelson, 1973b, Newport, 1976

Chomskyian theory excessively emphasises the role of competence (Bohannon and Bonvillian)

Imitation is essential in acquiring language (Tomasello 2000)

Recent literature - Ibbotson (2012) over 6000 languages across the world - massive diversity in language - some languages have adverbs and adjectives, others don't; some have recursion, others don't; some have a fixed order of items and many more examples. While the Principles and Parameters theory could explain some of this variance in the use of microparameters, this further dilutes the theory to the point of arguing that we learn all the idiosyncracies of our language.

Theory 3: Social Interactionist - 500 words

Introduce theory - 100 words

Examines language acquisition within a social development framework (Bernstein)

Bruner (1974/1975) - claims that children develop language in order to socialize and direct behaviour of others

Rees, 1978 - interactions between caregiver and child are at the centre of language learning

CDS is as important as the child's innate linguistic abilities in the acquisition of language

Similarity to Chomsky - explore common grammatical forms across children, cultures and languages e.g Bohannon and Warren-Leubecker 1988.

But also similar to Skinner - they suggest that such grammatical skills may have emerged from rote associations and imitations within the social context e.g. Moerk (1991a) - also focuses on the functions of language (Berko Gleason)

CDS - social play interaction results in later conversational training (Stern, Beebe, Jaffe, Bennett, 1977)

Infants refine behaviours in response to repeated interactions with their caregivers (Bernstein)

McLean and Snyder- McLean (1978, 1999) encapsulate the social interactionist model in a number of statements.

Firstly, they propose that language is only acquired if the necessity of talking arises - therefore we can assume that child has learned that communication impacts on environment

Secondly, language is developed as a form of acknowledging already existing communication functions

Thirdly, language is enabled by dynamic social interactions between child and caregiver, facilitated by the caregiver.

Finally, the child is active in the process and adds to the interaction by exhibiting behaviours in a manner that allows him to benefit from the adult's enabling behaviours.

Bates (1976) - explored the role of parents and caregivers in language acquisition

Child directed speech (CDS) - restricted vocabulary and sentences are short and grammatically simplified; exaggerated stress and intonation, pauses between words are more frequent, speech is slower and repetitive (Harley 2010)

Evidence for - 200 words

Strength - eclectic nature - linking behavioural theory with linguistic theory (Berko Gleason)

The significance of CDS - Berko Gleason and Weintraub (1978)- CDS observed in fourteen different languages, and utilised by all adult speakers including fathers

Children prefer to listen to CDS from birth (Fernald and Kuhl 1987) throughout infancy (Friedlander 1970) and childhood (Rileigh 1973). Mothers emitting longer and more complex sentences - children showed the least language advances (Furrow, Nelson and Benedict, 1979)

CDS often focuses on the object of a child's attention (Tomasello and Farrar 1986) - mother who talks about such an object - children spoke their first words earlier and had larger initial vocabularies - assist with "meaning mapping" problem address by the linguistic approach

Listener feedback - i.e. when the child fails to understand longer utterances - adults simplify - this type of interaction has been observed in both Spanish and English (Bohannon 1989)

Severely neglected children scored lower on receptive language ability when compared with other maltreated children and controls (Fox, Long and Langois, 1988) - also Culp et al, 1991 - neglected children displayed delays of six to nine months in both receptive and expressive language, when compared with children identified as abused and neglected - demonstrated delays of 4-8 months, children who were abused but not neglected 0-2 months delayed - where levels of cognitive development across the three groups did not vary

Recent literature

Evidence against - 200 words

Does not explain how children acquire symbols for referents (Bernstein)

Does not account for the manner in which communicative intentions link to linguistic structures (Bernstein)

The theorists involved differ in their view of the system for classifying communicative intentions and in addition, a system for assigning precise intentions to children's utterances has not yet been developed (Bernstein)

Relatively young theory and therefore many of the assumption and predictions are untested (Berko Gleason)

Many theorists suggest that CDS is not as simplified as proponents of social interactionist theory suggest - e.g. Newport et al. - imperatives, which common in CDS are more complex than declarative sentences

Although their evidence was correlational, Furrow et al's study was countered by Hoff-Ginsburg, 1986, who discovered that the complexity of maternal speech was unrelated to language development

Baker and Nelson (1984) - evidence for social interactionist - too correlational e.g Allen and Oliver, 1982 - neglected children- adult interaction might not have been the causal factor, it may have been the other way around - statistical assumption of linear relations (Berko Gleason)

Recent literature

Suggest how these theories apply to the speech and language therapists work. Your answer must include at least three examples of practical applications of the theory of language acquisition in the work of the speech and language therapist - 1,300 words

PECS - 430 words

However Berko Gleason also emphasises that failing to account for the role of behavioural theory in language acquisition would be equivalent to "'throwing the baby out with the bathwater" p. 241. According to Bernstein, structured behavioural techniques are commonly utilised in speech and language therapy and may underlie many interventions used with children with language disorder (Bernstein). One such example of the use of behavioural technique

Application of Linguistic - 430 words

Theorists began to note the importance of naturalistic observations (McCormick and Schiefelbusch, 1984)

Parent Training - 430 words


Green et al.

Conclusion - 150 words