Course in General Linguistics

by Ferdinand de Saussure

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What are the five theories of first language acquisition?

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About language acquisition, the capacity to recognize and comprehend language, there is a continuing debate as to whether it is solely a learned behavior and nurture has the no influence or whether there is an innateness to the acquisition of language, suggesting then that there is "a critical period" in a human's life when language can best be learned. In the examination of language acquisition, there is a rationalist approach to which deduction is central and an empiricist approach to which induction is central. All in all, the two classical approaches regarding the acquisition and representation of language differ in perspectives in these ways:

(a) the ultimate source of knowledge (external and led by environmental input or internal, led by the structure of the mind); (b) mechanisms of acquisition; 
(c) characteristics of the Initial State, i.e., whether or not innate knowledge of some form exists. 

Hermeneutic [a method or theory of interpretation] Theories of Language Acquisition

1. Nature vs. Nurture

The examination of whether or not there is an inherent ability to sort words in the patterns, etc. or if language is solely learned

2. Behavorism: Environmentalist Theories

These hold that children learn language through repetition, imitation, and analogy. Language acquisition is attained through habit forming and reinforcement activities.

3. Nativism or Innatism

This theory was popular in the 1950s and has dominated others until the last decade. The most eminent representative of this theory, Chomsky, contends that language is the organ of the mind, developing as do other organs.

Chomsky, the most eminent representative of Nativism claims that language is the organ of the mind and it develops like other organs. Humans are designed to speak.There is what is called Universal Grammar [UG] that is hard-wired in the brain; furthermore, this UG contains a device for language acquisition [LAD], an internalization of rules for a language.

4. Interactionism, Cognitive Studies

Modern cognitive studies recognize two things: 1) meaning emerges from use and 2) structure emerges from language usage. Thus, thought and language develop in parallel ways. In addition, interaction is a key factor in language acquisition as children realize the social role of language as their need to communicate with others become apparent to them.

5. Connectionism

Whereas it was assumed that the processes of cognition were carried out by discrete operations of the brain that were made in a serial order and memory was perceived as distinct from the mechanisms that worked on it, connectionism examines the neural connections and related activities of the brain in language acquisition.

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