The Nativist Perspective and Language Development

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  • 0:07 Introduction and Definition
  • 0:49 Noam Chomsky's Ideas
  • 2:26 Pros and Cons
  • 4:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

In this lesson, learn how we develop language according to the nativist perspective. Discover Noam Chomsky's idea of the language acquisition device (LAD) and its role in this process.

Introduction and Definition

Imagine a young child just beginning to talk. Let's call this child Will. At first, Will could only make sounds, but he soon learned to form those sounds into meaningful words. Now he's starting to put the words together to form sentences and communicate in a more complex way. What processes are driving Will's language development?

In this lesson, we'll consider how language development occurs according to the nativist theory. The nativist perspective is a biologically based theory, which argues that humans are pre-programmed with the innate ability to develop language. In other words, Will was born with the ability to develop language.

Noam Chomsky's Ideas

The main theorist associated with the nativist perspective is Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is a strong advocate for the nativist theory of language development. Before Chomsky's time, language development was largely accepted as being purely a cultural phenomenon that is based solely on imitation.

To illustrate this let's think about Will again. Will has learned to make sounds, associate sounds with words that have specific meaning, and is beginning to put the words together to form sentences. According to the popular belief during Chomsky's time, he has accomplished all of this by imitating the speech of those around him.

Chomsky felt differently. He believed that greater attention should be given to children's innate ability to learn language. He came up with the idea of the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). The LAD is a language organ that is hardwired into our brains at birth. Because of this, we are born with the ability to understand and develop language. Once a child is exposed to language, the LAD activates. It allows them to understand the rules of whatever language they are exposed to.

Let's consider Will's language development using Chomsky's theory. Will was born with an ability to understand language. He begins to form sounds in an attempt to communicate with those around him and his LAD activates. Words and sentences follow quickly because he already has an innate knowledge of the basic rules of language.

Pros and Cons

So, are we born with the ability to communicate through language or is it learned after we're born? This is a question that linguists have debated for a long time.

There are arguments for the nativist view of language development. For example, the nativist theory is supported by the idea of universal grammar. Universal grammar means that all languages have the same basic structures and are only transformed into different languages by specific rules. Another argument in support of the nativist theory is the idea that without an innate predisposition for language, infants would be unable to learn the complex speech patterns that surround them.

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