Is the language inherited or learned

Inherited or learned? Chomsky's nativist and Piaget's cognitivist positions on first language acquisition in comparison

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Chomsky's nativist language acquisition model
2.1 Principle and parameter model (hereinafter: P&P)
2.2 Problems and modifications

3. Piaget's cognitivistic explanatory model for language acquisition
3.1 Piaget's language acquisition model
3.2 Differentiations

4. Evaluations of both models
4.1 Evaluation of the nativistic language acquisition model
4.2 Evaluation of the cognitivistic language acquisition model
4.3 The comparison of the two evaluations


1 Introduction

Language acquisition is a controversial subject of research in many applied scientific disciplines.

For this reason, the housework takes a critical look at Chomsky's nativism and Piaget's cognitivism, as they are among the best-known theorists in this field.

In this paper, Chomsky's and Piaget's language acquisition models are compared to determine which of the two theories offers the most plausible explanation for language acquisition.

First, the housework will deal with Chomsky's nativism by presenting his model, as well as its problems and modifications.

The same principle is also applied to Piaget's model. This gives an overview of both models before considering them in the evaluation.

2. Chomsky's nativist language acquisition model

According to Chomsky, language acquisition is: “<...> something that happens to you. Learning is something like undergoing puberty, "[1] and language in itself is a mental, abstract system of knowledge. It contains rules specific to language and is also independent of general cognitive abilities.

The nativism advocated by Chomsky assumes that language and its basic structures develop from an already existing knowledge, i.e. innate knowledge.[2]

To justify this assumption, Chomsky developed a language acquisition model, which will be explained in the following.

2.1 Principle and parameter model (hereinafter: P&P)

According to this model, every child has the genetic makeup of a universal grammar (hereinafter: UG)

The UG is a "<...> characterization of these innate, biologically determined principles, which constitute one component of the human mind- the language faculty,"[3] and contains abstract, general principles that apply to all languages, such as a word sequence. It also has parameters that define "a limited set of choices or options"[4] describes within a principle, e.g. subject-object-verb or subject, verb-object.

The structural properties of all natural languages ​​that are random and whose areas do not fall into the UG are therefore to be learned.[5]

Accordingly, the child only has to recognize the corresponding parameters of the mother tongue from the input and determine what is called triggering. The lexical units and their properties must also be deduced from the input by the child.

This procedure, however, plays a rather unimportant role because: “A central argument in this (nativistic) position is that language cannot be learned from the environmental offer <...> because the environmental offer does not reveal which utterances of the children are grammatically correct and which are incorrect. But since children, despite the inadequacies of the language offer, acquire a grammar in the environment, grammatical knowledge must be innate. "[6]

Accordingly, the UG only generates permissible grammars, so that the child has no way of building a wrong grammar and the input has a purely triggering role.

Despite these arguments, the question of how the language acquisition process is actually carried out remains open.

2.2 Problems and modifications

There are still numerous open questions and ambiguities in the P&P model.

The first difficulty is already evident in Chomsky's assertion that the UG is genetically anchored. As an argument for this thesis it was assumed that "the acquisition of grammar for all children is the same and takes place within a sensitive phase, that it is relatively error-free and does not require any special instruction."[7] However, this declaration does not take into account the aspect that language acquisition can vary from person to person.

Furthermore, the P&P model has gaps in terms of the development process and offers opportunities for modification.

Nativism takes two main approaches to solving this problem. The first deals with that of lexical learning, which represents that the principles of the UG are already present from birth and the changes in the child's syntax are mainly due to "that children increasingly acquire more words with the characteristics typical for them"[8], with the exception of a maturation process.


[1] Klann_Delius, G .: Language acquisition, Stuttgart, 2008, p. 57.

[2] See Szagun, G. : Language development in children, Munich, 1980, p. 52.

[3] Chomsky, N. : Knowledge of Language, New York, 1986, p.24

[4] Klann-Delius, G. : Language acquisition, Stuttgart, 2008, p. 56.

[5] see Klann-Delius, G. : Language acquisition, Stuttgart, 2008, p. 57.

[6] Szagun, G. Language development in children Weinheim, 2006. P.267

[7] Szagun, G. Language development in children Weinheim, 2006. P.271

[8] Klann-Delius, G. : Language acquisition, Stuttgart, 2008, p. 63.

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