Chomsky’s Innate Theory of Language Development in Children
Noam Chomsky is a proponent of the Language Acquisition Device. The linguist suggests that LAD is a brain mechanism that seeks to explain how human beings acquire a syntactic language structure (Chomsky, 1972). The hypothetical mechanism suggests that children in their first two years have the inherent ability to obtain the rules and structures of their language from the scanty language picked up from adults. Language spoken by adults around children is usually irregular. This further elaborates Chomsky’s argument that aspects of language find a limitation that is based on a child’s inherent knowledge of the language. This knowledge is what he referrers to as Universal Knowledge. This knowledge is a set of principles that govern language and is common to all languages in the different parts of the world. The knowledge is the foundation for all human languages. Chomsky’s theory does not rely on experience and abilities of the child to learn the language; it relies on the uniqueness of a child’s brain. Language is viewed as a skill that is innate (Chomsky, 1972).
Chomsky’s main assumption is that children have an imprinted linguistic structure in their minds (Chomsky, 1972). This is what enables them to learn their mother tongue with a lot of ease. In his theory, Chomsky suggests that LAD exists in every child. The purpose of LAD is to imprint principles and structures of language on the brain of a child. It does this through encoding. This then disputes the fact that children learn language through imitation alone. The complex aspects of languages cannot be picked up during speech. Furthermore, the speaker of the language is usually unaware of these complex aspects. Chomsky therefore argues that a child’s ability to master these complexities within a few years can be attributed to the unique grammar structure that is imprinted on the child’s brain (Chomsky, 1957).
Various evidences exist in support of Chomsky’s theory. One of the evidences is the grammatical errors that are mostly absent when a child is learning how to speak. He argues that, although adult’s speech if usually irregular and full of grammatical errors, children’s speech during their learning process is usually devoid of these errors. Grammatical aspects like the order of the object, subject and verb is usually correct. More evidence in support of the theory is that when these children make grammatical errors they are usually the type that cannot be acquired passively. Chomsky argues that the grammatical mistakes that are made by the children are hardly uttered by adults. This then goes to prove that children do not learn language by mere imitation (Chomsky, 1972).
Innatism is based on the independence of grammar from language (Chomsky, 1957). Chomsky argues that the intuitive learning tools in the brain of children enable them to learn the grammar of their various mother tongues. A child uses his LAD to create language anew. This particular language has its grammar shaped by innate principles that are referred to as the Universal Grammar. The Universal Grammar is the blueprint of language that is found in the child’s brain. It is generative grammar because it allows the child to form grammar that will then be applied in the child’s language. The Universal Grammar has parameters and principles that form the basic components of grammar. These components are like verbs, nouns and sentence structures (Chomsky, 1957).
Noam Chomsky portrays the child’s brain as unusual organ. This is because of the preexisting conditions that aid a child to learn language. These conditions then make the language learning process of children utterly dependent on their brain. According to Chomsky, external and environmental factors play an insignificant role in this learning process of a child in his first two years.
Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. ‘s-Gravenhage: Mouton.
Chomsky, N. (1972). Language and mind. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Rathus, S. A. (2008). Psychology: Concepts & connections. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth.