The argument between Chomsky and Bruner’s approaches to language acquisition boils down to the concepts of nativism vs. social interaction.
According to Chomsky, human beings are born into this world with a system of abstract biological mechanisms in the brain that (a) greatly aid and (b) restrain our acquisition of language. These mechanisms are referred to as Universal Grammar (UG). Chomsky formulated this theory after noticing that:
- Despite the wide range of ill-formed and incorrect language children encounter early in their lives, they all manage to acquire their languages without fail (barring any developmental issues) and can identify sentences that are ungrammatical.
- Children can produce sentences they’ve never heard before and can also generate an endless number of sentences.
Because of its emphasis on internal mechanisms and biology, UG has come to be classified under the umbrella of nativism (meaning it is innate to our biology).
Jerome Bruner, on the other hand, disagreed with Chomsky, instead taking more of a sociocultural perspective on language acquisition. Bruner’s interactionist framework centers on the idea that language acquisition occurs from a dynamic interplay between a child’s social network (language acquisition support system or LASS) and biological mechanisms. In other words, Bruner recognized that language acquisition was a collaborative process, whereas Chomsky relied on the primacy of UG.