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Theories of language acquisition


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Theories of language acquisition

  1. 1. THEORIES OF LANGUAGE ACQUISITIONWHAT IS A THEORYAccording to the definition of Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary a theory is1-A set of properly argued ideas intended to explain facts and events.2-Ideas, beliefs or claims about something which may or may not be found true in practice.According to the definition of Longman’s Dictionary Of Contemporary English, a theory is1-An idea or a set of ideas that is intended to explain something about life or the world especially that hasnot yet been proved to be true.2-An idea that someone thinks is true but for which they have no prove.WHAT IS LANGUAGE ACQUISITION1-Acquisition is a process whereby children become speakers of their native language.2-Acquisition is a process by which language capabilities of a person increases.APPROACHES TO LANGUAGE ACQUISITIONVarious theories and approaches have been emerged over the years to study and analyze the process oflanguage acquisition. According to the arguments presented by Allan Paivio Len Begg }Psychology ofLanguage, p-222}, there exists three main school of ideas regarding language acquisition1-Behavioural approaches to language acquisition2-Linguistic approaches to language acquisition3-Cognitive approaches to language acquisitionLINGUISTICS AND PSYCHOLOGYUntil non for most linguists the main aim of their discipline was providing structural analysis of a body oflanguage data. And to be truly scientific in their approach they dealt with the substance of language inisolation from any sociological or psychological factors that might effect its use .Although they had beeninterested in the processes involved in using language but they believed it to be the function of thepsychologists and not the linguists to investigate. They tended to adopt fairly uncritically whatever thepsychologists proposedBut in recent years many linguists have retained this point of view that the true task of a linguist should benot the description of individual languages but 1 the explanation of language use. 1 This in turn demands research into human capacity for language 2 And this involves the incorporation of psychology into linguistics. So today’s linguists say 1-Linguistics is a branch of psychology or 2-Psychology is a branch of linguistics since language is central to all human activities. The main areas of psycholinguistics is language acquisition 1-How do children acquire their mother tongue 2-The way people learn foreign language 3-The relationship between words and thoughts
  2. 2. PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF LANGUAGE ACQUISITIONAccording to Wilkins}Linguistics in Language Teaching] there exists two highly contrasting generalaccounts of language acquisition1-Behaviourism2-Mentalism BEHAVIORISMIS BEHAVIOUR WHATAccording to the definition of Oxford Advance Learners Dictionary behavior is1-One,s attitude or manner2-Some act or function in a particular situationWHAT IS BEHAVIORAL SCIENCEAccording to Oxford Advance Learners Dictionary Behavioral Science isThe study of human behaviorSince linguistics is also included in behavioral sciences, it purpose as well is the study of language withrespect to human behaviorWHAT IS BEHAVIORISMAccording to the definition of Oxford Advance Learners Dictionary, Behaviorism is1-the theory that all human behavior is learnt to fit in with external conditions and is not influenced bypeople’s thoughts and feelings.According to the definition of Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English Behaviorism is2-The belief the scientific study of the mind should be based only on people’s behavior, not on what theysay about their thoughts and feelings.HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO BEHAVIORISM In 1913, in one of the most famous lectures in the history of psychology, John Broadus Watson (1878-1958), a 35-year-old "animal behavior man" from Johns Hopkins University, called for a radical revision ofthe scope and method of psychological research."Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science. Itstheoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of itsmethods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselvesto interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animalresponse, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of itsrefinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorists total scheme of investigation."Introspection was to be abandoned in favor of the study of behavior. Behavior was to be evaluated in its ownright, independent of its relationship to any consciousness that might exist. The concept of "consciousness"was to be rejected as an interpretive standard and eschewed as an explanatory device. As an objective,natural science, psychology was to make no sharp distinction between human and animal behavior; and itsgoal was to develop principles by which behavior could be predicted and controlled.Published in the Psychological Review shortly after its delivery and incorporated within the first chapter ofWatsons 1914 Behavior: A Textbook of Comparative Psychology, this lecture eventually came to be knownas the "behaviorist manifesto." Generations of psychologists, reared in a post-Watsonian discipline thatdefined itself as the "science of behavior," were taught that Watson was the father of behaviorism and thatFebruary 24, 1913 was the day on which modern behaviorism was born.
  3. 3. Yet behaviorism did eventually spread throughout American psychology. During the 1920s, across the workof a growing number of psychologists, there emerged a reasonably coherent set of intellectual commitmentsto which the name "behaviorism" gradually became attached. Based on the rejection of mentalism inpsychological theory, a dedication to the use of objective methodology in research, and a strong concernwith practical application of psychological knowledge to the prediction and control of behavior,"behaviorism" in the 1920s owed an obvious debt to Watson.A RICHER VERSION OF BEHAVIORISMAt the same time, however, behaviorism grew during this period in part by diverging from and transcendingWatson. Influenced by broader conceptions of objectivism and of psychological process developing atHarvard, Columbia, Chicago, Missouri, Ohio State, Minnesota, North Carolina, and even Hopkins,behaviorism had become, by the end of the 1920s, a more thoroughly elaborated, theoretically more variedand sophisticated approach than anything to be found in Watsons own writings. It was this richer version ofbehaviorism, rather than Watsonianism , that succeeded in transforming American psychology; and it did sonot by converting the old guard but by capturing the enthusiasm of the young. As succeeding generations ofpsychologists entered the discipline, objectivism gradually became the norm; and by the mid-1930s,American psychology had become the science of behavior, and behaviorism, methodological and/ortheoretical, had become its dominant orientation.DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO BEHAVIORISM Even among those who identified themselves as "behaviorists," agreement on the program was by no meansunanimous. Early behaviorism took a variety of forms]. There was--- 1 the radical behaviorism of Watson, a view notable for its extreme anti-mentalism, its radical reduction of thinking to implicit response, and, especially after 1916, its heavy and somewhat simplistic theoretical reliance on conditioned reactions. 2 There was the relational behaviorism of the Harvard group, developed by Edwin Bissell Holt (1873- 1946). Conceiving of behavior as "a course of action which the living body executes or is prepared to execute with regard to some object or fact of its environment," Holts behaviorism was molar, purposive and focused on the relationship between high-level behavioral mechanisms in the organism and the concrete realities of the social and physical environment. 3 Closely related to this view was a kind of philosophical behaviorism, espoused primarily by philosophers and tied to pragmatism, in which "consciousness" was defined as a form of behavior guided by future results.] 4- Albert Paul Weiss (1879-1931) was developing a bio-social behaviorism based on a radicaldistinction between the level of theoretical discourse appropriate to behavior analyzed as social cause (i.e.,"biosocially") and that appropriate to behavior analyzed as sensorimotor effect (i.e., "biophysically"). 5-At Minnesota, Karl Spencer Lashley (1890-1958) was arguing a physiological behaviorism in whichthe physiological analysis of behavior could be considered "a complete and adequate account of all thephenomena of consciousness." 6- At the University of Chicago, George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), who had been on the faculty sinceWatson was a graduate student, was elaborating a social behaviorism of mind, meaning, self, language, andthinking that emphasized the social character of behavior and the behavioral character of mind. 7- Finally, in a number of institutions, a sort of eclectic behaviorism was emerging-a behaviorism thatassimilated whatever seemed strongest and most reliable in the views of others.PSYCHOLOGY FOR BEHAVIORISTSAs a natural science, psychology takes the study of behavior as its fundamental task. Whatever elsepsychology might be, for early behaviorism it was fundamentally the science of behavior, where behaviorwas defined in terms of the organisms organized response to stimulation. Depending on the theorist and the
  4. 4. reaction system in question, response might be overt or covert, implicit or explicit, clear and well-defined orvague and obscure, molecular or molar, simple or complex. Response might consist of an actual act orsimply of the adoption of an attitude, tendency, or set; it might be controlled by the proximal stimulus ordirected toward objects in the environment. But however otherwise conceived, for the behaviorist, responseinvolved the operation of effector systems-muscles and glands. Behavior had to do with "how, when, andwhy a man does this or that, acts thus and so, desires, seeks, accepts, rejects-in a word, moves."ADJUSTMEMT AND MALADJUSTMENT. In the 1920s, behaviorists were united in the assumption that behavior results when the organismsrelationship to the environment must be changed if it is to survive and prosper. Behaviorism referred to suchstates as "maladjustments". Maladjustment is a natural byproduct of change in the organism (e.g., anincrease in drive level) or in the environment (e.g., a rise in ambient air temperature); and behavior, which isa process of adjustment, consists of responses on the part of the organism that tend to restore balance in itsrelationship to the environment.POLYGENETIC CONTINUITY. For early behaviorism, animal and human behavior exist in an "unbroken continuity," Animals and humansshare both mechanisms and fundamental forms of overt adjustment to the environment. This view, whichoriginated with Watsons desire to place the study of animal behavior high on the psychological researchagenda, was reinforced by psychologys early success in extending trial-and-error and conditioning analysesfrom animals to humans. As Dashiell summarized the continuity commitment: "The genus and speciesHomo sapiens is moved by the same forces without and within as are the lower animal forms, and expressesthem in the same general types of actions and action-tendencies. The differences are differences in degree..."THE DETERMINATION OF BEHAVIOR/STIMULUS RESPONSE PSYCHOLOGY. Behavior, from a behaviorist point of view, is a joint function of stimulating conditions in the environmentand characteristics (drive states, hereditary reflexes, acquired systems of habit, emotions, mechanisms ofimplicit stimulation) within the organism. In its earliest formulations, this commitment, from whichbehaviorism later became known as "stimulus-response" or "S-R" psychology, was somewhat too simplyphrased. Thus, for example, in 1919, Watson said only that: "In each adjustment there is always both aresponse or-act and a stimulus or situation which call] out that response....the stimulus is always providedby the environment, external to the body, or by the movements of mans own muscles and the secretions ofhis glands...[and] responses always follow relatively immediately upon the presentation or incidence of thestimulus."THE CLASSIFICATION OF BEHAVIOR. Although many behaviorists pointed to the indissociability of response types in actual behavior, earlybehaviorism remained wedded to the classification of response in terms of three major categories: a)somatic/hereditary (pre-potent reflexes, instinctive reaction tendencies); b) somatic/acquired (systems ofhabits); or c) visceral/hereditary and acquired (emotions). Responses in all three categories were then furtherclassified as explicit, implicit, or preparatory (attitudinal).Distinctions between instinctive, habitual, and emotional reaction systems were delineated by Watson in1919. "Human action as a whole," he wrote. "can be divided into hereditary...(emotional and instinctive),and acquired modes of response (habit)."For Watson, all three response modes were "pattern reactions,"complex systems of reflexes that function in an organized fashion when the organism is confronted with anappropriate stimulus.
  5. 5. BEHAVIORAL REDEFINITION OF THE TRADITIONAL CATEGORIES OF MENTALISM. At the heart of early behaviorism lay a commitment to the notion that mentalistic categories and concepts(e.g., perception, attention, meaning, symbol, memory, purpose, abstraction, generalization, thought) musteither be redefined in terms of behavioral mechanisms or discarded altogether. In 1913, Watson excludedmind in its entirety from behaviorism. Not only was consciousness rejected as both fact and concept, butassociated mental terms were to be discarded as well. This was the most extreme version of thiscommitment; and other early behaviorists did not, as a rule, follow Watson down this path. By far the mostcommon approach was to redefine the standard concepts of mental analysis in strictly behavioral terms. Afew examples will suffice."Perceiving," for Dashiell, was an "anticipatory set (largely implicit) that orients...[the organism] for acertain line of conduct with reference to...[the] situation." "Meaning" was "the pattern of reaction-tendenciesawakened by...[the thing perceived.]" For Allport, a "symbol" was "a brief and labile response usuallyundetected in outward behavior, but capable of being substituted for overt responses." "Consciousness," inWeisss terms, was "only the functioning of obscure contractile elements, which in turn stimulate adjacentreceptors that release the verbal overt response..." And "thinking," in that famous analysis of Watson, simplymeant "subvocal talking, general body language habits, bodily sets or attitudes which are not easilyobservable without instrumentation or experimental aid."ANIMAL MODELS. Behaviorism emphasized the identification of fundamental mechanisms in animal behavior (e.g., trial anderror learning, conditioning) and use of such mechanisms, without significant theoretical revision, in theexplanation of human behavior. This approach, which followed directly from the commitment tophylogenetic continuity, was largely unquestioned among early behaviorists. Indeed, as behavioral researchbegan to develop in the late 1920s and 1930s, many of the most important studies focused on animals andmany core theoretical concepts came to be defined almost entirely in terms of the procedures of animalbehavior research.HABIT FORMATION. An emphasis on habit formation defined in terms of mechanisms of trial-and-error elaboration of responseand conditioned stimulus substitution was probably the characteristic with which early behaviorism wasmost closely associated. Behaviorism in the 1920s was first, last, and always a psychology of habitformation. Acquired behavior, no matter how complex-thinking, talking, even scientific activity itself-could,in the final analysis, be reduced to habit.TRIAL AND ERROR MECHANISMThe trial-and-error mechanism (increase in random movement upon confrontation with a problem situation,accidental success when chance response alters the organism or the environment in the direction of greateradjustment, and gradual, mechanical selection and reinforcement of successful movement) was usuallyemployed to explain efferent modification, the elaboration of the response itself. The conditioned reactionwas typically evoked to explain afferent modification-change in the effectiveness of stimuli, including thosethat are purely social and symbolic, in eliciting a given response.LANGUAGE. For behaviorists in the 1920s, self-stimulation and response was intimately linked to language. For boththe self in thinking and the social listener in communication, language responses were conceived assubstitute, symbolic stimuli, independent of the sensory attributes of the original stimulus. In this role, theysubserved the related functions of abstraction and generalization. As Weiss , who pioneered this analysis,asserted:
  6. 6. "...many different receptor patterns representative of many different sensory situations and relations, areconnected to the same language response and through this common path the individual may react in aspecific manner to all the objects, situations, and relations thus concerned, even though there is very littlesensory similarity between them."CONCLUSIONPsychology defined as the natural science of behavior, wedded to objectivism in method and theory and to agoal of behavioral prediction and control; behavior, animal or human, conceived as a pattern of adjustment(innate and acquired, skeletal and visceral, explicit and implicit) functionally dependent upon stimulusconditions in the environment and factors of habit and drive in the organism; emphasis in research andtheory on animal behavior, ontogenesis, drive reduction, habit formation, social behavior, and language-thiswas the orientation that began, following World War I, to capture the imagination of young psychologistsand to spread within American psychology throughout the 1920s. This was behaviorism in its early form.SOME COMMON APPROACHES TO BEHAVIORISMConditioned reflexes---------------------------Ivan PavlovExperimental method------------------------John B. .WatsonOperant conditioning-----------------------B.F.SkinnerCONDITIONED REFLEXES/CLASSICAL CONDITIONINGPavlov a Russian Scientist made the discovery that led to the real beginning of behaviorism. Pavlov andmost of his contemporaries saw classical conditioning as learning that comes from exposing an organism toassociation of environment events.THE PAVLOVIAN EXPERIMENTWhile studying digestive reflexes in dogs, Pavlov found out that it could reliably be predicted that the dogswould salivate when food was placed in the mouth through a reflex called the salivary reflex in digestion.Yet he soon realized that after some time salivary reflex occurs even before the food was offered. Becauseof the sound of the door and the sight of the attendant carrying the food. The dogs had transferred the reflexto these repeated actions.Thus the dogs learnt a new behavior. It was maintained by the behaviorists that language as well is a sort ofbehavior that can be acquired in ideal social conditions. According to them language is essentially theproduct of the society.OPERANT CONDITIONINGBehaviorist theory takes language acquisition as a process of habit-formation through stimuli-responsemodel, as represented in Skinner’s Verbal Behavior (1957):1) The child imitates the sounds and patterns which he hears from around him.2) People recognize the child’s attempts as being similar to the adult models and reinforce (reward) the sounds, by approval or some other desirable reaction.3) In order to obtain more of these rewards, the child repeats the sounds and patterns, so that these become habits.4) In this way the child’s verbal behavior is conditioned (or ‘shaped’) until the habits coincide with the adult models.Thus children learn language in the following stepsIMITATION
  7. 7. REPETITION MEMORIZATION CONTROLLED DRILLING REINFORCEMENT1-IMITATION AND REINFORCEMENTChildren just imitate what they hear. Parents teach them by telling them when they makemistakes.Children start out as clean slates and through the process of imitation they get linguistic habitsprinted on these slates. So we can say that language acquisition is a process of experience.2-CONDITIONED RESPONSE/STIMULUS RESPONSE PROCESSThe operant conditioning proposed by skinner is based upon four elementsStimulus------Response---------Reinforcement----------RepetitionThe hunger or loneliness ----------------------------------------------StimulusThe baby cries-----------------------------------------------------------ResponseThe mother comforts him----------------------------------------------ReinforcementThe same process happens again--------------------------------------RepetitionThe baby cries whenever hungry---------------------------------------New behaviorCHOMSKYS EXPERIMENTATIONChomsky performed some experiments on ratsTHE VALIDITY OF BEHAVIORISMCRITIQUE1-Behaviourist accounts of L2 acquisition emphasize only what can be directly observed (input) andignore what goes on in the ‘black box’ of the learner’s mind, viewing the learner as merely ‘a languageproducing machine’. There was little room for any active processing by the learner. Its learning model isdemonstrated as: A {input} Reinforcement A{Output}But this model fails to reflect the true picture of children’s L2 acquisition in which the output is differentfrom the input: A (input) Reinforcement A+ (output)A+ is the multiplication resulted from the process of ‘A’ in the black box. If the child’s linguistic outputdoes not match the input, the explanation must lie in the internal processing that has taken place, somethingthat induced the Mantalists to go to another extreme of innatist.
  8. 8. 2-Irregular Grammatical patternsBehaviorism does not explain how children learn to handle irregular grammatical patterns3-Languaoge a matter of maturation rather than imitationChildren seem unable to imitate exactly the adults grammatical structure at the beginning. They learn thesestructures with the passage of time no matter how much parents try to teach them. Thus language is a matterof maturation rather than imitation.4-The most dramatic evidence against behaviorism is the fact that the children who can not speak at all butwho can hear normally acquire normal competence in language comprehension.5-Several kinds of evident suggest that imitation , in the sense of a child’s attempt to reproduce the adultsactual utterances he hear does not play an important role in the acquisition of syntax.5-One of the relatively empirical problem is that relatively few experiments have been done with infants andthat these have typically dealt with general effects on vocalization.6-According to Chomsky arguments man is superior to animals with respect to language acquisition so wecan never apply the rules and principles to language learning which are derived from the experiments onanimal.7-For Chomsky the acquisition of incredibly complex language by children can not simply be explained byimitation. It definitely has something to do with innate capabilitiesCONCLUSION The above two theories can not give satisfactory answers to SLA, because each goes to a polar extreme.The debate between behaviourism and mentalism arises the theory of cognitivism, which agrees with thementalists that children must make use of innate knowledge, but disagrees about its nature. Cognitivism, onone hand admits the active processing by the learner, and on the other hand attaches much importance to theinput and the interaction between internal and external factors.