Chomsky's Nativist Theory of Language: Definition & Development

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Chunking Method: Definition & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:02 How Do We Learn to Talk?
  • 0:28 The Nativist Perspective
  • 1:34 Language Acquisition Device
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed Audio mode

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ryan Hultzman
This lesson covers the noted linguist Noam Chomsky's nativist theory of language, which argues language acquisition is an innate or biological ability. We will focus on the major concepts of this important linguistic theory.

How Do We Learn to Talk?

Have you ever heard a toddler babbling on and on? How is it that babies are able to learn a language so quickly? What accounts for the fact that one moment a young child can barely form words, and the next, he or she speaks frequently and coherently? These questions captivated the noted linguist Noam Chomsky, who dedicated much of his career to explaining this phenomenon.

The Nativist Perspective

Linguists have long debated how and why we're able to learn a language. In some ways, this is sort of a chicken and egg kind of scenario: are we born with the ability to communicate with language, or do we learn it after we're born?

Guided by these burning questions about why children are so adept at learning a language, Noam Chomsky developed what is called the nativist perspective. According to Chomsky's theory, infants have an innate ability to learn language. From a very early age, we're able to understand the basics of language. For instance, Chomsky argued, children are able to understand the appropriate order of words from a young age. Instead of saying ''Juice I want,'' children know to say ''I want juice!'' Chomsky noted that this is similar across languages. Children are able to do this even before they have developed much of a vocabulary. This is an important point for Chomsky because it underscores his theory that children are able to understand the structure and rules even before they know many words.

Language Acquisition Device

So, what is responsible for this? The language acquisition device (LAD) is a hypothetical area of the brain that explains how children can learn languages so quickly. By hypothetical, we mean that if you were to take a look inside of a person's brain you would not see a section labeled LAD. In other words, LAD is more of a theoretical idea. It accounts for the ways in which children have an innate ability to understand language and syntax. The LAD is meant to help us understand the many underlying processes that explain why we're so good at learning languages.

Before Chomsky developed his theory, it was widely held by linguists and psychologists that babies learn a language by mimicking those around them. In other words, we hear and see others talk and copy that. Language acquisition is a cultural phenomenon. However, Chomsky argued this approach could not explain how young children understand things like the arrangement of words. That's more complicated than simply listening to your parents talk to you.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 220 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account