You are on page 1of 9

1

Theories of Language Learning(UG)
Introduction
Twentieth century proposed a plethora of theories of learning language. Some were accepted as it is; some were modified and some were rejected through and through. Of the most lately propounded theories of language learning two are related to Universal Grammar. Both theories are discussed by V. Cook in his article, Universal Grammar Theory and the Classroom. Cook discusses the theories in relation to language teaching .

Universal Grammar
Before going into the details of these theories, it would not be ineffective to investigate the notion of Universal Grammar. Chomsky believes that it is "the system of principles, condtions and rules that elements or properties of all human languages." (1976:29)To be precise, Universal Grammar is actually concerned about similarities in human languages. To put in other words, since English has principle and rules, so do other languages. And the linguists job is to find out whether all human languages have somewhat same principles and rules and what those principles are. These similarities,be it syntactic, are called Universals. Chomsky professes that human languages are rule-governed.

The Universal Grammar theory claims that the speaker's knowledge of a language such as English consists of several general principles. Some principles lay down the relationship between items that have been moved in the sentence, as in questions and passives. This model is not centrally concerned with conventional rules. It does not deal with the passive or relative clauses. Instead rules are seen as the interaction of various principles and settings for parameters.

Since the early 1990s a further major model of syntax has been undergoing development. This then developed into Government/Binding(GB) Model (Lectures on Government and Binding. which refined the types of rules that were employed. In second phase. the notions of surface and deep structure were replaced with more technical terms i. Further. started from 1996. Later. it recognised the two structures of a single sentece namely 'surface' and 'deep' structure. UG was born in 1957 with the publication of Chomsky's Syntactic Structure in which he originated the idea of 'generative grammar' and Phrase Structure(PS) rules.e. This theory introduced and distinguished competence from performance. Moreover. simplifying knowledge of language to invariant principles common to all languages. Transformational Generative Grammar. More. S-structure and D-structure.e. So far it has had three phases. During the 1970s the Standard Theory evolved into the Extended Standard Theory(EST) . it focused on the general features of the model. it was called TGG i. 1981). Syntactic Structures was followed by the model first known as the Aspect Model after Chomsky's 1965 book Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. In the first phase. Later on. It claimed that human languages consisted of principles that were the same for any grammar and parameters that allowed grammars to vary in limited ways. it attached principles to vocabulary.2 Development of Unversal Grammar Theory Originally. a model called the Minimalist Program(MP). it reduced much of the apparatus of GB . they called it the Standard Theory.

all that is needed is sufficient evidence to set the values for the parameters. a new model has been emerging. all that has to be learnt is whether the setting for the head parameter is head-first or head-last. Since 2000. Does an .( The Architecture of Language. The question of evidence is more open since many L2 learners receive numerous corrections of their errors and grammatical explanation. Second language researchers have concerns that are magnified by the problems peculiar to second language learning. Since the learner already knows the principles as they are part of his or her mind. Moreover. the same principles of phrase structure apply. However. Given the learner knows the phrase structure principles. For this the learner needs linguistic evidence in the form of actual sentences spoken by the people around him or her. The settings for parameters are not constant but vary from language to language.3 Theory to a minimal set of operations and ideas. 2ooo) Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar The model of acquisition is essentially straightforward. As the principles of Universal Grammar are built-in to the mind they do not have to be learnt. known as Phases Model. it is unsure whether they receive correction of the appropriate errors or grammatical explanations of the right type to learn the types of syntactic knowledge. partly because teachers are unapprised with the pro-drop and head parameters. It does not matter whether the learner's L1 is English. The question is how much this exerts on L2 learning. The learner automatically applies them to whatever language he/she encounters. Urdu or Pushto. The question of parametersetting is in L2 learning is stirring because there is already one setting for the parameters present in the learner's mind. it strived to know whether the central 'computational system' of language perfectly interfaces with phonology and cognition.

rather it appears to remain within the limits of human language. Cook(1988) proposes three model of language learning viz. while the latter proclaims that it is only available via mediation of the L1. Indirect Access Model claims that the learner will first shift the parameters already present in their minds. in which UG is no longer available for L2 learning. It means that because the first language will have set the parameters.e. The alternative model i. The former suggests that UG is still available for L2 acquisition. any subsequents change in them will be made with reference to the first language. The no access model logically leads to treating language like any other area of learning and so in school terms to dealing with it in the same way as say geography and gymnastics. Does the L2 learner transfer the L1 setting to the new language or start from scratch? Models of Language Learning To discuss the relationship between UG and L2 learning. No Access model. rather than with refernce to the principles of UG. b) absence in the L2 learners of grammars that breach principles of UG. and all that the learner has to do is to set parameters of the new language just as he or she did for his first language. Direct Access Model suggests that UG remains available to the language learner at all stages of mental development. Even interlanguage may not go against the UG principles. . then it will be available for second language learning.4 Urdu speaking learner approach English with head-last setting for the head parameter or is he or she neutral between settings? Cook utters that it reintroduces the issue of transfer into L2 learning research in a new form. The arguments against the No Access model are simply a)the difference of the language system from other cognitive systems. Direct Access model and Indirect Access model. There is one more.

The classroom learner is setting values for parameters from positive evidence. regardless of variation between learners and regardless of types of input. UG theory can play only one part in this framework. social and linguistic. it is about grammar rather than about language. Indeed. UG theory does not regard language acquisition as depending upon particular circumstances. If UG is involved in L2 learning. Classroom L2 learning and teaching is made up of many components. provided the learner has sufficient examples of appropriate sentences to trigger the settings for the various parameters. there should be intrinsic difference between classroom acquisition and any form of language acquisition with respect of the type of language knowledge involved in UG theory. rather than in how the speaker uses language. the uniformity and occurrence requirements mean that it deals with features that can be learnt regardless of situation. Its interest lies in what the learner knows about language.psychological.5 Universal Grammar and Language Teaching The UG model is actually about language knowledge. parameter setting will take place. It means that UG theory is neutral about many of the issues that arise in the classroom. or how they meet and understand other people. it is concerned with the abstract central areas of syntax rather than with broader aspects of language. grammatical competence. In L2 learning this may be modified by and transfer of parameter setting from the L1. . Furthermore. It is only concerned with general principles of syntax such as the phrase structure principle such as pro-drop and head parameters. not language use or language development. so long as the classroom provides appropriate evidence. When looking at the relevance of UG theory to classroom learning we need to remember its restricted scope. The UG theory is arguably of minor importance in dealing with how people communicate. strictly speaking. pragmatic competence.

On the whole then the well-established features of teacher-talk-shorter utterances (Wesche and Ready. Unlike the Direct Access Model. indeed experiments with Micro Artificial Languages have shown that learners can choose appropriate settings for the head parameter from around 30 sentences. as with the head parameter example. Indirect Access Model claims that universal grammar principles are no longer available for L2 . 1986). less subordination (Ishiguro. they cannot be entirely dismissed. The learner learners L2 by applying the . Hyams (1986) believes that the crucial element in the English child’s switching to non-prodrop is not the absence of subjectless declarative sentences themselves. as UG theory implies ( Morgan. called in Cook “onetime setting”.6 On the one hand there is the extreme case where it is believed that learning may take place on the basis of one sentence or a small set of sentences. except in so far as they segment the input more readily into grammatical constituents. On the other hand some of the necessary evidence may be indirect. a form of negative evidence. 1985). even if these appear to be not quite the settings that UG theory utilizes (Cook 1986) . not about langauge use. To set the parameter correctly sometimes requires a range of syntactic forms rather than just one paradigm sentence. Classroom Practice of Indirect Access Model and Observation Though UG is concerned about the knowledge of language . Furthermore L2 learners may be exposed to forms of evidence such as explanation or correction which are rare in L1 acquisition. and so on-have nothing to do with the desirable properties of input for a UG model. I had to apply one of the two models discussed within UG Theory. While the effects of this on the knowledge of parameters appear minimal. since teachers do not have the academic knowledge to correct errors or make explanations on the basis of such syntactic principles and parameters. which is a by-product of the non-pro-drop setting and absent from pro-drop languages-a form of positive evidence. 1986). but the presence of the “expletive” subjects “there” and “it”. slower speed (Mannon. but as per demand of the project. 1986).

though it is a "non-pro-drop" language. unlike Urdu. it is inflected for gender e. parhta .g. English is a non-pro-drop language i.e. . parhti etc. however.g. is inflected for third person in sentence such as He reads a book. rahi while English Verb was not inflected for gender. I delimited my experiment to two parameters: head parametre. For instance. on the other hand in English sentences take Verb before Object. But so far as syntax is concerned so Urdu is an OV language. One thing. a Chinese speaker will consider English a "pro-drop" language. Though Urdu verb is not inflected for 1st . when students were asked to identify the differences between the given two sentences. When an Urdu speaker learns this sentence.7 L1 rules on L2. an English sentence also needs a subject. But English Verb. they realised that in Urdu sentences Object comes before Verb. For example. So here the head-parameter for L2 is activated via L1 parameters. apart form headparametre. English sentences always need subject. raha . he concludes that . it would be like He is playing cricket.like Urdu. they observed was that in Urdu Verb is inflected for gender e. In other words. If we translate it into English. while English is a VO language. The situation in which I experimented the model L1 is Urdu and L2 is English. and pro-drop parametre. Wo kriket khail raha ha. 2nd or 3rd person.

when I asked the learners what they think about their own learning process. he will initially think that L2 is also a non-pro-drop language. But when the L1 is a pro-drop language like Spanish or Chinese then the learner will consider English( L2) a pro-drop language. we ourselves learned English through GTM by translating the grammatical points into target language. in Urdu the sentence structure is like SOV. English sentence structure is SVO.from Urdu to English. He/she compares L2's grammar with that of L1. In other words. So most of them said that they learned L2 by the interference of L1. For example. they . Apart form this empirical study. Similarly. you can observe subjectless sentences in a chinese's or a spaniard's English (L2). the learner assumes that L2's syntax will be like that of L1 so if the learner's L1 is non-pro-drop.• pro-drop L1 RULES non-pro-drop • head-last • non-pro-drop • head-last • UG L2 RULES Fig. This model needs Grmmar Translation Method for teaching L2.8 head-parameter • pro-drop/non.1 Indirect Access Model In Indirect Access Model. Consequently. They told me that they learn English by translating the things in Urdu. In this method teacher explains the grammatical point to the learners.

they speak or write English directly. What it can do at its best is that it can tell us about the different patterns of acquiring/learning L2. application of UG for the sake of performance is not likely. In our case as well the Indirect Access Model only tells us that when a learner learns L2. so he/she learns it with the help of L1 rules. To say it the other way. .9 first think in Urdu and then translate it into English. rather grammatical competence. however. it seems a bit difficult to evaluate the theory at performance level. Instead. said that they did not think in Urdu. Some learners. Conclusion Given that UG is primarily concerned with competence.