My critical view about Chomsky’s First Language Acquisition
The aim of this essay is to deal with Chomsky’s theory about First Language Acquisition (FLA). I will explore some beliefs and arguments related to this interesting topic as well as mention which I find more feasible.
Chomsky’s First Language Acquisition theory was a controversial theory through the late sixties. After several studies his theory was quite acceptable. Chomsky strongly claims that humans are born with an innate language faculty in their minds. He believes that all languages share grammatical structures. This is called Universal Grammar (UG) which can be described into different perspectives. On the one hand, it states that all languages are governed by a set of universal principles; on the other hand, it points out that the mind is equipped with parameters which are set intuitively by the child through the input he/she receives. This procedure can be metaphorically compared to a blackbox. Children hear sentences said by their parents (the primary data); they process the information within their blackbox (LAD) and then they acquire linguistic competence (generative grammar). In my opinion, it is very difficult to contradict Chomsky’s theory. There are many characteristics that prove that his theory is true and I extremely support it, as the following ones.
To begin with, Universal Grammar is constructed with a number of universal principles. One of the most significant principles is structure dependency. This principle states that every sentence in every language must have at least a subject and a verb. What distinguishes one language from another are the parameters. For instance, one parameter in the LAD is head setting. For example, some languages such as English are head first; others such as Japanese are head last.
Several arguments have been used to support the existence of Universal Grammar. For example, Chomsky opposed Skinner’s theory of language acquisition. Skinner believes that the acquisition of a language is throughout the input children receive, which is positively or negatively reinforced. In response to that, Chomsky has proposed the poverty of stimulus arguments, stating that the input children receive cannot be the reason for the language children produce. For instance, how do children acquire a language when they don’t know what they can’t say? How do they learn to speak correctly when the input they receive is sometimes incorrect? According to Chomsky, they do so through an innate capacity. Considering the previous debate, I believe that the only possible explanation is innateness. I strongly agree with Chomsky’s idea of universal grammar.
This evidence was proved on various forms of acquisition including blind, deaf and dumb children language acquisition. American Sign Language was established for the acquisition of language on deaf people. Deaf children naturally acquire sign language very much in the same way as hearing children acquire spoken language. The main feature is gesture. Both children, hearing and deaf, use gestures to communicate in their early age. Gestures are used in everyday situations and for common requests. In the case of blind people language consisted of symbols on the keyboard. No matter the way in which these particular children acquire language, the important thing is that they support the theory of universal grammar as all have their structured language and children could acquire them naturally.
Another important feature of Universal Grammar is that it matures. There is evidence that language faculty matures from a semantic phase to a syntactic phase, a child produces sentences to convey meaning, then switches to syntactic organization. Therefore, if Universal Grammar matures, we can say that Universal Grammar is part of our genetic inheritance, part of our biology. For example, it is different to learn to walk because the more we practice, the more we develop this skill. However, language is part of the human inheritance; it is an internal development whose only requirement is exposure to language evidence to trigger the setting of the parameters of Universal Grammar. Taking this into account, we can differentiate between learning to write and learning to read in the sense that speaking is acquired naturally; it is genetically inherited without being taught. However, learning to write and read need to be taught.
Futhermore, bearing in mind the previous characteristics of Universal Grammar an essential factor to acquire a language is the evidence children encounter. For that reason the speech of the caretaker is relevant to explain first language acquisition. In Chomsky’s words there are three types of evidence; firstly positive evidence, for example SV order; then direct negative evidence, correction of speech, and lastly indirect negative evidence, when certain forms are omitted in the sentences so that the children can set a parameter. Chomsky claims that positive and indirect negative evidence are relevant to the acquisition of a language. In this aspect I also agree with Chomsky, I believe that one depend on one another to make possible the acquisition.
To conclude, despite the strong arguments against Chomsky’s theory of language acquisition, I find his theory the most tenable one I have studied. I support innatism and its principles and parameters theory. Apart from the sound logical basis of the theory I have been able to witness to language acquisition process of my own little nephews. They are able to say words that they have never heard by the simple exposure to the language. Another reason to support this theory is that it has been proved that particular languages such as the American Sign Language also have their own language structure which enables deaf children to acquire a language. Chomsky’s work about language is one of the most significant theories in the history of language.