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Introduction Several theories and approaches have emerged over the years to study and analyze the process of language acquisition. The main schools of thought, which provide theoretical paradigms in guiding the course of language acquisition are, innatist theory, cognitivist theory and motherese theory. The Innate theory asserts that language is an innate capacity and that a child‟s brain contains special language-learning mechanisms at birth in which the main proponent of this theory is Chomsky (Pinker, 1994). On the other hand, the cognitive theory by Jean Piaget (Wilburg, 2010) claims that language is just one aspect of a child‟s overall intellectual development. Sassonian (2009) asserts that language is a symbolic representation which allows the children to abstract the world. In this essay I will be critically examining the input theory that the child-centered “Motherese” is universal, and there are cultures in which speech is never addressed to language-learning children. More so, the essay will critically discuss the cognitive theory and also the Chomsky innateness theory of children having innate ideas to learn language and also how this language acquisition is learned and developed by social interacting with environments such as adults and the cognitive development. Also, I will be highlighting studies that have critiqued Motherese and the other theories of not being helpful to children in acquiring

language. The innateness theory Language is not an autonomous system for communication. It is embedded

in and supplemented by gesture, gaze, stance, facial expression, voice quality in the full array of options people can use for communicating (Clark, 2009).Learning is complex and the context where it takes place

is influenced by our learning experience due to

our different experiences.

Clark (2009, p.7) states that “in learning language, children may first rely on nonlinguistic options, both in their initial understanding and in their own early use”. The Innateness theory by Noam Chomsky (Pinker, 1994) shows the innatist limitations of behaviorist view of language acquisition in 1960‟s to the alternative „generative‟ account of language. The main Argument in this theory is that children are born with an innate knowledge which guides them in the language acquisition task. The children‟s ability makes the task of learning a first language easier than it would otherwise be (Crain & Lillo-Martin, 1999). Pinker (1994, p.26) claims that “the universally of complex language is a discovery that fills linguists with awe, and is the first reason to suspect that language is not just any cultural invention but the product of a special human instinct”. It is an innate biological function of human beings just like learning to walk. On the other side, Clark

(2009, p.2) poses that “even if children are born with a learning mechanism dedicated to language, the main proposals is to focus only on syntactic. The rest has to be learnt.” This essay believes that children have the innate ability to learn language as Chomsky believes, but this needs to be learn and develop by social interacting with environments such as adults and in cognitive development. According to Clark (2009) children beside their innate abilities; their acquisition of language could also be affected by social interaction and cognitive development. Moreover, Chomsky (2009) argues that Language learning is not really something that the child does; it is something that happens to the child placed in an appropriate environment much as the child‟s body grows and matures in a predetermined way when provided with appropriate nutrition and environmental stimulation.

Furthermore, according to Crain and Lillo-Martin (1999), the innate knowledge, known as the language Acquisition Device (LAD), includes principle common to all human languages, called the Universal Grammar (UG). This is similar to Pinker(1994, p.43) claims that the evidence corroborating the claim that the mind contains blueprints for grammatical rules comes, once again out of the mouths of babes and suckling‟s. For example, looking at the English agreement

suffix- s as in He walks” Chomsky theorized that children were born with a hard-wired language acquisition device (hereafter, LAD) in their brains (Pinker, 1994). LAD is a set of language learning tools, intuitive at birth in all children (Pinker, 1994). Pinker (1994) further expands this idea into that of universal grammar, a set of innate principles and adjustable parameters that is common to all human languages. The language acquisition Device (LAD) is a postulated organ of the brain that is supposed to function as a congenital device for learning symbolic language (Chomsky, 2009). To Chomsky (1977, p.98) all children share the same innateness, all children share the same internal constraints which characterize narrowly the grammar they are going to construct”

Therefore, Crain and Lillo-Martin (1999) pose that LAD explains human acquisition of the syntactic structure of language; it encodes the major principles of a language and its grammatical structures into the child‟s brain and enables the children to analyze language and extract the basic rules of universal grammar or generative grammar because it is a system of rules that generate or produce sentences of the language. We are born with set of rules about language in our brains and children are equipped with an innate template or blueprint for language and this

blueprint aid the child in the task of constructing a grammar for their language (Chomsky, 2009). The universal grammar according to Chomsky (2009) does not have the actual rules of each language but it has principles & parameters in which the rules of language are derived from the principles & parameters. In other words, the principles are the universal basic features of grammar such as nouns and verbs and the parameters are the variation across language that determines one or more aspects of grammar e.g. pro, drop and head direction (Chomsky, 1977). Therefore, the parameters in children set during language acquisition (Chomsky, 2009).

In Chomsky‟s 1965 book „Theory of Syntax‟ it laid out the reasoning for a theory of innate knowledge, and since then much of his work and volumes of work inspired by him have added to our understanding of this theory of language acquisition (Crain & Lillo- Martin, 1999).So, the mechanism of innate theory and mechanism of language acquisition formulates from innate processes (Chomsky, 1977; 2009). More so, Crain and Lillo-Martin (1999, p.5) postulate that “language is not a concrete set of things out in the world that we can point out to or measure rather, it is something inside our brains and minds”. I support this claim because I believe that the acquisition of language is innate but as we grow and develop within an environment and

interact with family, school, society, we tend to develop cognitively, in which language learning is a process of socialization. This claim accords well with Bruner (1957) who argues that Children are not little grammarians, motivated to decode the syntax of the language around them through the operation of their LAD, but social beings who acquire language in the service of their needs to communicate with others.

However, in literatures, some scholars have argued and critiqued the innateness of language as it relates to having nothing defending the thesis. Sampson (2005) argues that to say that language is not innate is to say that there is no difference between my granddaughter, a rock and a rabbit. According to Sampson (2005) if you take a rock, a rabbit and my granddaughter and put them in a community where people are talking English, they will all learn English. This simply implies that if there is a difference therefore language is not innate. Although Chomsky (2009) argues that children learn their first language remarkably fast and also it is relatively fast. In contrast, Sampson(2005, p.37) argues that people normally reckon the period of language acquisition from birth and children take years from birth, rather than months or weeks to master the main grammatical structures of their mother tongue. Gethin (1999) in a similar vein argues that adults

who go about it the right way can acquire a far larger vocabulary in a foreign language and far quickly than native child for reason that adults know the world already, while children do not.

Meanwhile, Chomsky argues that language acquisition in childhood works quite differently from acquisition in later life and their learning of language is more complicated than the last (Pinker, 1994). Gethin (1999, p.25) further claims that “it is an unwarranted assumption that children go through stages in this order because one stage is simpler than another; nor does it follow that because a general psychological reason is not observable and there is not one”. Sampson (2005, p.41) refutes this assumption by explaining the best- known case of Genie:

A girl born in 1957 whose father was insane: from the age of 20 months to 13 years 7 months she was kept in isolation from human company and from virtually all other mental stimulation. Susan Curtiss has documented Genie‟s development during the first fifty-five months after society discovered her as an unsocialized, primitive, barely human‟ creature and began in November to try help her towards normality. Within that period, Genie had not learned to speak English in anything like normal sense; nor had she acquired the most basic non-linguistic skills. Susan Curtiss herself regarded Genie as

refuting the strong version of Lenneberg‟s claim‟ that, natural language acquisition cannot occur after puberty.

Succinctly, Gethin (1999) pose that nobody knows exactly what experience did to Genie‟ brain. In this essay, looking at Chomsky‟s (1977; 2009) arguments on Language acquisition, from my own point of view, I will say it is valid. On the other hand, Chomsky‟s (1977) theory might not be applicable on all the children in the world. This is because every child passes through different circumstances from others and there are differences in context in which a child develops and grows. Looking at the case of Genie and what the emotional damage she suffered, this issue might be attributed to her difficulties in acquiring language and speaking. Furthermore, Chomsky (2009) claims that children learn language very quickly.

Gethin (1999) argues that some older children hear more new words than others; this is probably why the pace at which older children learn varies a lot, when they are smaller, their experience is probably more equal and so they learn at the same speed. I agree with Gethin(1999) argument that children also have the ability to acquire even more than one language in the same time, because their minds are bright and they are not busy with the stress of life as adult, so they able

to learn fast but adults‟ minds are always busy, in which they concentrate on the other sides of life which is more important to them than acquiring language.

Moreover, Sampson (2005, p.50) refutes “Chomsky‟s argument on language universality that it is central to Pinker (1994) case for nativism. Gethin (1999, p.31) claims that “there is a single unquestionable universal of language as opposed to universal ways of thinking” in which Chomsky and his supporters would not necessarily demonstrate a separate faculty inherited with a restricting program, rather than universal ways of thinking and experiences which limit what people can express and the ways they do it. Gethin (1999) poses that if language is really universal, why do humans around the world learn and have different languages. I believe that the fact that all languages have much in common has nothing to do with the world appearing basically the same to everyone everywhere. In Sampson (2005) views no specialized linguistic faculty or brain component is specific to language. Children learn their first language by a process of trial and error hypothesis formation based on their experience with language data made available in linguistic community into which they are born combined with the skills provided by general human abilities (Sampson, 2005).

On the other hand, Gethin (1999, p.31) asserts that “the basic truth to be realized about language, is that studying it cannot tell us anything at all about the nature of thought”. Therefore the innate theory by Chomsky (2009) that language acquisition is a matter of growth and maturation of relatively fixed capacities, under appropriate external conditions has been criticized by Sampson (2005) and Gethin (1999) on the role of adult speech which cannot be ruled out to help children in working out the regularities of language for themselves. It has proved difficult to formulate the

On the other hand, Gethin (1999, p.31) asserts that “the basic truth to be realized about

detailed properties of LAD in an uncontroversial manner. Whilst Humboldt (1999) in support of Chomsky affirms that language cannot properly be taught but only awakened in the mind; it can only be given the threads by which it develops on its own account. This means that “language learning of children is not an assignment of words to be deposited in memory and rehearsed by rote through the lips, but a growth in linguistic capacity with age and practice” (Chomsky,2009, p.101). In this respect, Chomsky‟s (2009) assumptions have values in the linguistic sciences, although thisese theoryies hasve been criticised, it has indicated various facts about language acquisition.

The Input theory

According to the input or Motherese theory, there are cultures in which speech is never addressed to language-learning children; therefore it must be possible to learn to talk by listening to adults talking to each other or by the environments surrounding them. The studies of Motherese in the 1970 focused upon the maternal input, that parents do not talk to their children in the same way as they talk to other adults and seem to be capable and adapting their language to give the child maximum opportunity to interact and learn (Lieven, 1994 ). This implies that the child moves ahead a little at time. Adults do talk differently to children than to other adults using what is sometimes called“Motherese”. Crain and Lillo-Martin (1999, p.14) argue that “adults mumble less to children, they use fewer incorrectly formed sentences, they use shorter sentences, and they frequently use different intonation patterns with young children”.

Mothers are able to provide semantically relevant and interpretable speech because they follow up on topics introduced by the child; but some mothers will be better at doing this than others, (Lieven, 1994). It also shows that some children will be better at eliciting semantically relevant and interpretable speech than others. The utterance of the parents is considerably and subconsciously simplified especially with respect to grammar and meaning and sentences are

shorter (Lieven, 1994). However various studies have indicated that they do not invariably use grammatically simpler sentences. Crain and Lillo-Martin (1999, p.14) pose that looking at studies that compared children whose parents used Motherese to those whose parents did not use Motherese, no different was found in language development. So it does not seem that Motherese serves to pace the information presented to the child, in order to help her learn the language in easy steps and must be clear that Motherese would not be helpful, and “could be detrimental to language development in certain cases” (Crain & Lillo-Martin ,1999, p.14).Pinker (1994, p.40) objects to the claims of Crain and Lillo-Martin(1994) in his findings and asserts that he has observed the results of the experiment that we do not teach our children to sit, stand, walk, but they do it on their own schedule.

Crain and Lillo-Martin (1999, p.7) assert that there are two facts about language acquisition “first, it is universal (within the human species) and, second, there is a considerable latitude in the kind of environmental inputs that permit children to develop language”. Theories of environmental influences on language-learning have tended to be built upon the study of the- mother-infant. In fact most children in the world grow up in polyandry situations (Lieven, 1994).

According to Wyatt (1969, p.6), in his observation of mother-child interaction, he observe that the interaction between mother and child was as much nonverbal as it was verbal. The mother followed her child with her eyes almost continuously; she played with him; she cuddles him; carried him and protect him. Mother and child obviously were close to each other, she spoke to him in short simple sentences, using a limited vocabulary that most probably he was able to comprehend. Her short phrases and sentences were grammatically correct, and she articulated clearly. During the time of the observation she talked much more with her son than with her mother. Most striking in her speech with the child were the frequent repetitions she used (Wyatt,


Lieven, (1994) in his study identified that children spend most of their time with their mothers and their siblings in which they imitate how they talk or the words in which they say. But, Pinker(1994, p .45) refutes this and argues that “the very concept of imitation is suspect to begin with, if children are general imitators, why did they not imitate their parents‟ habit of sitting quietly in airplanes? Therefore, this indicates that language acquisition cannot be explained as a kind of imitation only by children but also through watching their parents and older ones

discussing too. This is supported by Lieven (1994) in his study of a group of English families which shows that children aged 24-36 months pay attention to conversations between their mothers and older siblings and develop their abilities to intervene in them. Lieven (1994) further asserts that how the child learns to talk is provided by studies which suggest that the children are

simply eavesdroppers on the language around them until they can make attempt at taking part in the ongoing conversation. In other words, this means that children do not appear to learn just hearing utterances in a language without any meaning attached to them and they obviously bring both knowledge and skills to the language learning situation. Clark (2009, p.5) agrees with this claim and asserts that “adult and children talk to each other; adult expect children to respond to requests and comments, and to indicate to their interlocutors what they are interested in as well as their needs and wants. This certainly ensures that the child is able to start talking something which marks an important transition for both the child and her/ his caregivers in many cultures. Although, it is clear that the idea of child-centered “Motherese” is universal comes under the behaviorism theory because it is about children who imitate adults that their correct utterances are reinforced when they get what they want or are praised. Behaviorism theory has been

criticized by David McNeill (1933) that children are unable to imitate adult‟s grammatical constructions exactly, thus language acquisition is more of a matter of maturation than of imitation. Also the input theory or Motherese is criticized for its difficulty to show connection between the features of Motherese and the subsequence that arise out of these features in child speech (Crain & Lillo-Martin, 1999) In essence, it is clear that children spend much of their time listening to conversation around them rather than directly taking part in them. This essay suggests that in addition to the symbol-making and ordering skills aswe noted at the beginning of this section, children also bring a number of other skills which depend on memory and the ability to identify patterns in their environment, (Lieven, 1994). Cognitive theory This is a learning theory which is based on cognitive psychology and encompasses the manner in which people think and ultimately acquire knowledge and skills. This theory was developed by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) and focus on exploring the links between the stages of cognitive development and language skills. The links clearly shows from the earliest period of language learning up to 18 months, relating to the development of what Piaget called „sensory motor‟ intelligence, in which children construct a mental picture of a world of objects that have

independent existence. During the latter part of this period, children develop a sense of object permanence and will begin to search for the objects that they have seen hidden (Clark, 2009). The outcome of cognitive development is thinking, “the intelligent mind creates from experience generic coding systems that permit one to go beyond the data to new and possibly fruitful predictions” (Bruner, 1957, p. 234).

In other words, cognitive thinking is therefore concerned with the mental changes in a person‟s mind and these changes are as a result of the cognitive processes. The processes involved in learning are outlined by Wilburg (2010) namely: observing, categorizing, forming generalizations, decision making and problem solving which allows the learners to make sense of the information provided. This theory also deals with the nature of knowledge itself and how humans come gradually to acquire, construct and use it. Cognitive theories facilitate the improvement and growth of children.

According to the cognitive theorist all aspects that are learnt by an individual are as a result of what learners have constructed or discovered their own mental process and not through observable behaviour (Warren, 2012).Wilburg (2010) asserts that children /learners come to

school with knowledge, skills and related experiences to the learning situations and this make them actively involved in their learning process. Therefore, several studies has shown that children growing up in polyandry situations are taking part in multi-party conversation from an early age and in many of these cultures adults have particular interactional techniques to help them do so. According to Wyatt (1965), he describes the speech transmission between adult and child in Piaget theory namely:

Psychological level: the feelings of speech partners for each other, their relationship, their mutual expectancies, and the respective levels of maturation, which determine the choice of words by the speaker and the interpretation of their meaning by the listener. Linguistic level: process of word finding; selecting the correct sounds and putting them into correct sequences; putting words into correct grammatical order to form sentences. Physiological level: Neural activities affecting the speaker‟s perceptual and motor mechanisms and activating the hearing mechanisms of speakers and listener. Acoustic level: Sound waves travelling through the air between speaker and listener. There is not much evidence of the effects of the presence of siblings on children‟s

language. On the other hand, Lieven (1994) reviews a report on young children‟s language in conversations which include their mother and an older sibling as more complex than when alone with the mother.

At the early symbolic level, the child engages in almost unending repetition of words, Wyatt (1969). The linguistic units repeated under the influence of frustration or anxiety is no longer representative of child‟s normal stage of language development. Wyatt (1969) investigated the role imitation of the mother‟s speech plays in the child‟s acquisition of syntax. He found that the child imitates the mother‟s speech differently at different age levels. It should be added that the mother, taking her clues from the child, also imitates the child‟s speech differently at different times, thus providing various and changing types of corrective feedback for child. Wyatt (1969) points out that mothers frequently expand the child utterances adding those grammatical elements left out in the young child‟s “telegraphic” mode of speech. The main argument in cognitive theory is that language acquisition must be viewed within the context of a child‟s intellectual development and linguistic structures will emerge only if there is an already established cognitive foundation (Sassonian, 2009). For a child to be able to use linguistic structures, they need to first develop the conceptual ability to make relative judgments.

In cognitive dimension, we can ask a question, “What do children say by the time they start talking at age one? They have already had twelve months of perceptual and conceptual development (Clark, 2009, p.7).

According to Clark (2009) children are adept at perceiving similarities, identifying objects and actions, recognizing faces, sorting like with like; they can orient objects and know where they are kept and how they are used (spoons, cups, bowls, shoes, socks, dolls, books, chairs) and they know a good deal about their surroundings, about Euclidean space (up, down, back, front, side to side). This implies that “children are setting up representations of what they see and know and they make use of these for recognition and recall, summoning them first with gestures and reenactments of events and later with words” (Clark, 2009, p.7).

Therefore, the cognitive theory indicates that a child must be able to set up representations of what they see, hear, touch, and taste so that they can recognize recurrence and without representations in memory, they could not categorize or organize experience (Warren, 2012).

Therefore Clark (2009, p.8) poses that to do this, “children must be able to detect similarity or degrees of similarity, a capacity that appears fundamental for all learning”.

To Clark ( 2009, p.5) the cognitive theory has indicates that children develop cognitively at about the same rate in similar societies all over the world, this in turn suggests that they should go through the same stages in cognitive development at the same rate and grasp similar ideas at about the same age”. This means children may find some aspects of a language easier to master than others, and children exposed to different languages may well learn at different rates on equivalent parts of the system. Cognitive theory is criticized for beingen highly difficult to show precise correlations between specific cognitive behaviors and linguistic features at the very early stage of language acquisition as the children become linguistically and cognitively more advanced in the course of time (Wilburg, 2010).


This essay has critically discussed the various theories of language acquisition and their positive and negative aspects in which none has yet be seen to be definitive in explaining the acquisition of language by children which are a complex learning experience. Although I have elucidate that in the innateness theory, children are born with an innate knowledge which guides them in the language acquisition task; more so, on the aspect of the maternal input theory which shows that

parents do not talk to their children in the same way as they talk to other adults and seem to be capable and adapting their language to give the child maximum opportunity to interact and learn

while the cognitive theories


child and its

which are concerned with the development of

transformation in the society.