Critically contrast the accounts of language acquisition provided by Chomsky and Tomasello

Introduction Learning a language is a cognizant process. New knowledge or language forms are represented in the learner’s mind, in the form of rules and grammar and the process often involves error rectification or error correction. Language learning involves formal instruction. Acquisition of language, on the other hand, is a subconscious process of which the individual is not aware. One is unaware of the process as it is happening and when the new knowledge is acquired, the acquirer generally do not generally realize that he or she possesses any new knowledge. This is similar to the process that children undergo when learning their native language. Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language, during which the acquirer is focused on meaning rather than form. The concept of language acquisition refers to the method of natural assimilation, involving intuition and subconscious learning, which is the product of genuine interactions between people where the learner is a dynamic contributor. It is similar to the way children learn their native tongue, a procedure that produces functional skills in the spoken language without theoretical knowledge. This approach develops self confidence in the learner. Teaching and learning are viewed as activities that happen in an individual psychological plane. Language Acquisition Theory Languages are complex, arbitrary, irregular phenomena, in constant random, full of uncertainties and uncontrollable emotion. Even if some fractional knowledge about the execution of language is accomplished it is not effortlessly transformed into communication skills. Parameters and exclusions will make sense only if we have developed a concrete instinctive control of language in its oral form when we have assimilated it.In language acquisition, however, the primary goal is interaction between people, in which one functions as a catalyst and through which the other (learner) selects his own route building his skill in a direction that interests him personally or professionally. Instead of a syllabus, language acquisition provides human interaction. The existence of the real representatives of the language and culture that one hopes to incorporate is

elemental. Language acquisition is more efficient than language learning for attaining functional skill in a foreign language and the efficient teaching of a language isn’t that tied to a packaged course of organized lessons. Efficient teaching is one that is personalized, based on the individual skills of the facilitator in creating situations of genuine communication, focusing on the students’ interest and taking place in a bicultural atmosphere. Language acquisition is the process by which the language capability develops in a human being. First language (L1) acquisition concerns the development of language in children, while second language (L2) acquisition focuses on language development in adults as well. Theorists such as Skinner (1991) and Chomsky (1975) are often divided between emphasizing either nature or nurture as the most explanatory factor for acquisition. One hotly debated issue is whether the biological contribution includes capacities specific to language acquisition, often referred to as Universal Grammar. For fifty years linguists Noam Chomsky (1975) and Eric Lenneberg (1964) have argued for the hypothesis that children have innate language specific abilities that facilitate and constrain language learning. “Man's language ability is due to a more general, deep-seated cognitive ability characteristic of the species. ....” (Lenneberg,1964). Other researchers like Catherine Snow (1977), Michael Tomasello (2005) have hypothesized that language learning results only from general cognitive abilities and interaction between learners and their surrounding communities. Chomsky (1975) originally put forward the idea that children have innate tendency for language acquisition. He theorized that children were born with a language acquisition device (LAD) in their brains but later developed the idea to that of Universal Grammar (UG), a set of flexible parameters and inherent principles that are common to all human languages. According to Chomsky this UG allows children to infer the structure of their native language from exposure to it. Word Order Learning word order is one of the major tasks during early language acquisition. Indeed, young learners exhibit some knowledge of basic word order from their earliest multiword utterances (Brown, 1973; Guasti, 2002). In the present paper, we investigate what cues and learning mechanisms infants might use to acquire this structural property of their mother tongue. There exist at least two main theoretical stances about how word order is acquired. The constructivist (or lexicalist) view (Chang, Lieven, & Tomasello (); Tomasello, 2000) holds that word order is learnt from frequently encountered examples in the input. According to this view, young learners are sensitive to co-occurrence statistics in the language they hear, and their early competence contains semi-abstract constructions derived from this statistical information. For

instance, from frequent occurrences of Can you see...?, Can you go...?, Can you eat...?, the infant might construct the semi-general frame Can you X...?, where X is a placeholder for possible substitutions, in this case, for certain verbs. Thus, this view claims that young learners have no general and fully abstract representations of syntactic structure, including word order. Rather, their knowledge is linked to specific lexical items or frames. This view, then, implies that learning word order proceeds together with or after acquiring an initial lexicon, but not before. The generativist view (Chomsky, 1995; Guasti, 2002), on the other hand, argues that language acquisition relies on abstract prewired structural representations. Some of these hold universally true for all languages (‘principles’) and thus need not be learned. Others (‘parameters’) specify choices between possible structures, and languages vary as to which of the specified options they implement (Rizzi, 1986). Language acquisition, then, amounts to setting the parameters to the value that characterizes the target language, using overtly available cues in the input. For instance, the Head–Complement parameter formalizes whether languages choose to place the Head of a syntactic phrase first, and its Complement second; or the other way round. Japanese and Turkish, for instance, are Complement–Head languages. This entails that they have Object–Verb (OV) order (1a), postpositions (1b), complementizers that follow their subordinate clause (1c), just to mention a few phrase types. Head–Complement languages, like English and Italian, on the other hand, have VO order (2a), prepositions (2b), and complementizers that precede the subordinate clause (2c). Transformational Grammar The development of transformational grammaer can be traced by means of Chomsky’s representative publications articulating the different grammatical models. Thus, Early Transformational Grammar is associated with Syntactic Structures (1957), the Standard Theory with Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), Government and Binding Theory with Lectures on Government and Binding (1981), Minimalism with The Minimalist Program (1995).A summary of the theoretical machinery of Syntactic Structures can be described in this way: a set of phrase structure rules generates a number of underlying phrase markers, which in turn provide the input for a set of transformations (some obligatory and some optional) to apply to. These turn the phrase markers into their pre&final shapes. The last step is carried out by morphophonemic rules, whose function is to put some flesh on the structural skeleton. This account, of course, needs further qualification. The rules of phrase structure expand the sentence into constituents. A transformation “operates on a given string with a given constituent structure and converts it into a new string with a new derived constituent structure” (Chomsky 1957:44).Furthermore, the order of application of these transformations must be defined to allow later rules access to the output of earlier rules. The insertion of the actual words is carried out by means of the phrase structure rules,while they are transformed into utterances by the

morphophonological rules of the model. The model that came to be known as the Standard Theory was initiated by the publication of Aspects of the Theory of Syntax in 1965. Generative grammar was defined as “a system of rules that assigns structural descriptions to sentences” (Chomsky 1965:8). There are two essential elements to the theory: deep structure —a modification of the concept of kernel sentences— and surface structure — determining the phonetic interpretation of sentences. Surface structure (SS) is in turn “determined by repeated application of (...) grammatical transformations to objects of a more elementary sort” (Chomsky 1965:16). Chomsky summarizes the workings of his new model in this way: “A grammar contains a syntactic component, a semantic component, and a phonological component. The syntactic component consists of a base and a transformational component. The base generates deep structures. A deep structure enters the semantic component and receives a semantic interpretation; it is mapped by transformational rules into a surface structure” (1965:141). In this model, it is claimed that “the deep structure of a sentence fully determines its meaning” (Chomsky 1975:22), which implies that (i) sentences with the same meaning should share the same deep structure, and that (ii) transformations do not change meaning. These claims were collectively known as the Katz&Postal Hypothesis, which was eventually rejected when further research showed that surface structure did play a role in the interpretation of sentences, and that some transformations did change meaning, as the famous sentences show below. (15) a. Everyone in Cormorant Island speaks two languages. b. Two languages are spoken by everyone in Cormorant Island. Chomsky's “Nativist” Paradigm Chomsky states that the main task of linguistics is to explain how individuals bridge the gap – Chomsky calls it a ‘chasm’ -- between what we ultimately know, and what we could have learned from experience, even given optimistic assumptions about our cognitive abilities. Proponents of the alternative 'nurture' approach accuse nativists like Chomsky of overestimating the complexity of what children learn, underestimating the data they have to work with, and undue pessimism about their abilities to extract information based on the input. Advocates of the experience-dependent account highlight the availability of relevant cues in the input to children. These cues serve as the basis for the generalizations that we form about language. These generalizations are formed using general purpose learning mechanisms including distributional analysis, analogy, cut and paste operations, and the like.

The products of these learning algorithms are 'shallow' records which we keep of their linguistic experience. These are piecemeal records of construction types (a.k.a. templates/schemas/constructs) that encode linguistic patterns displayed by the input. Construction types are concatenated sequences of category labels such as NP, V, neg, INF, P, etc., drawn from an intuitively simple typology, and are learned solely from positive evidence (Pullum and Scholz 2002; Goldberg 2003, 2006). When children’s, for example, generalizations extend beyond their experience, the supposition is that this is just an instance of a completely general induction problem that arises for all learning that involves projection beyond one’s experience (Cowie 1999). According to Pullum and Scholz (2002), linguists need not suppose that children are innately endowed with "specific contingent facts about natural languages." If the data available to children are rich enough for them to determine the structures of human languages, given the right inferential techniques, then appeals to innately specified principles are at best a useful crutch for theorists -- and at worst a source of erroneous claims about alleged 'gaps' between the facts concerning particular human languages and the evidence available to children. Tomasello's Experience Dependent Paradigm According to the experience-dependent (a.k.a. usage-based) account, all human languages contain a wide range of semi-idiosyncratic constructions that cannot be accounted for by universal, or innate linguistic principles. On any account of language development, these 'peripheral' constructions must admittedly be learned. According to the experience-dependent account, the same mechanisms that children use to learn these constructions are also used to learn the core of phenomena of human languages. The reasoning here is that the core phenomena of human languages are even more regular, and occur more frequently than the idiosyncratic patterns. If so, then the core phenomena should be even easier to learn (Goldberg 2006), with more frequently attested constructions being mastered earlier than less frequently attested constructions according to Tomasello, 2003. Tomasello (2003) also asserts that once children have mastered the core construction types, these are merged into more and more complex patterns, until the language of the child approximates that of an adult in the same linguistic community. On the experience-dependent approach, then, child language is expected to match that of adults, more or less. Initially, child language will be a less articulated version of the adult language, but children will gradually converge on the target language. On Tomasello's account, linguistic generalizations are based on information-structure, including topic (matters of current interest), focus domain (what is newly asserted), and backgrounded elements (e.g., presuppositions). The communicative function of a construction type is essential in accounting for its

distribution in a language. For example subjects are the default devices for marking the topic of a clause. Once communicative function is taken into account, an explanation of cross-linguistic generalizations follows. Such generalizations (recurrent patterns) are claimed to be the by-product of general cognitive constraints, such as analogical processes, processing factors, and discoursepragmatic factors (Goldberg 2006). Nevertheless, the experience-dependent account anticipates substantial variability among the constructions that appear in different human languages. As noted, the experience-dependent account attempts to avoid the conclusions of nativists about the innate specification of universal linguistic principles. On this account, children only (re)produce linguistic expressions that they have experienced in the input, at least at the earliest stages of language development. This proposal is called conservative learning If true, conservative learning renders innate linguistic principles unnecessary for language learning. Language development consists, instead, in developing constructions based on exposure to strings of words that learners encounter in their experience. In his chapter on ‘‘acquiring linguistic constructions’’ Tomasello (2006) puts social learning at the center: ‘‘the most fundamental process of language acquisition is the ability to do things the way that other people do them’’ (p. 286). This suggests that learning to talk with others is primarily a matter of conformity. Tomasello’s view provides an interesting contrast to Chomsky’s (1965) claim that creativity (i.e., the ability to comprehend and produce novel sentences) is at the heart of language. To explore this and related issues in linguistic studies, I will use two unusual vantage points. The first is Gibson’s (1966,1979) ecological approach to psychology; the second is the social psychology of Asch’s(1956) studies on disagreeing with a unanimous majority. The view that emerges is that realizing values is central to language, and neither creativity nor conformity, as usually understood, adequately captures the dynamics involved.

The constructivist (or lexicalist) view (Chang, Lieven, & Tomasello (in press); Tomasello,2000) holds that word order is learnt from frequently encountered examples in the input.According to this view, young learners are sensitive to co-occurrence statistics in the language they hear, and their early competence contains semi-abstract constructions derived from this statistical information. For instance, from frequent occurrences of Can you see...?, Can you go...?, Can you eat...?, the infant might construct the semi-general frame Can you X...?, where X is a placeholder for possible substitutions, in this case, for certain verbs. Thus, this view claims that young learners have no general and fully abstract representations of syntactic structure, including word order. Rather, their knowledge is linked to specific lexical items or frames. This view, then, implies that learning word order proceeds together with or after acquiring an initial lexicon, but not before. The generativist view (Chomsky, 1995; Guasti, 2002), on the other hand, argues that language acquisition relies on abstract

prewired structural representations. Some of these hold universally true for all languages (‘principles’) and thus need not be learned. Others (‘parameters’) specify choices between possible structures, and languages vary as to which of the specified options they implement (Rizzi, 1986). Language acquisition, then, amounts to setting the parameters to the value that characterizes the target language, using overtly available cues in the input. For instance, the Head–Complement parameter formalizes whether languages choose to place the Head of a syntactic phrase first, and its Complement second; or the other way round. Japanese and Turkish, for instance, are Complement– Head languages. This entails that they have Object–Verb (OV) order (1a), postpositions (1b), complementizers that follow their subordinate clause (1c), just to mention a few phrase types. Head– Complement languages, like English and Italian, on the other hand, have VO order (2a), prepositions (2b), and complementizers that precede the subordinate clause (2c). Returning to the question raised about Tomasello’s (2006) claim about social learning being central to language. The fundamental ecological task in acting and perceiving is to realize values. Social solidarity with those who speak to us and listen to us in caring ways is a crucial dimension of why and how we speak at all. As Hodges and Geyer’s reinterpretation of the Asch experiments reveals, agreement with others may be less an act of conformity than it is an act of coordinating multiple values and multiple relationships in creative ways. A values-realizing, ecological approach suggests that neither rule-governed creativity nor social conformity captures the heart of language. The phenomena often described in terms of conformity (Carr, this issue) might better be conceptualized in terms of sharing. Tomasello et al. (2005) propose that what differentiates the social and linguistic interactions of humans and chimpanzees is sharing. Apes perceive the intentionality of others, but provide no evidence of wanting to share intentions with other apes or with humans. The phenomena often described in terms of conformity might better be conceptualized in terms of sharing. Tomasello et al. (2005) propose that what differentiates the social and linguistic interactions of humans and chimpanzees is sharing. Apes perceive the intentionality of others, but provide no evidence of wanting to share intentions with other apes or with humans. it is interesting to note that Kanzi, perhaps the most accomplished of the language-trained apes, ‘‘does not negotiate over meaning or support the other collaboratively in the communication process’’ (Tomasello et al., 2005, p. 686), citing Greenfield and SavageRumbaugh, 1991). They suggest that both apes and autistic children appear to lack ‘‘the motivation or capacity to share things psychologically with others’’ (p. 687). From an ecological perspective, the more basic issue may be that there is a lack of caring for the other and their well-being, which entails some larger sense of values (i.e., what is good for the other). The creativity of conversation is less about generating new syntactic combinations than jointly acting to create new possibilities for action

that are faithful to ‘‘old’’ responsibilities. Language is precocious and not just for children. Adults and children are always trying to say what they cannot yet formulate properly. Language is a means by which humans try to create the conditions that will make it possible for them to act better than they are. Human narratives yearn for change, not just constancy. The invitation quality of language, its power to encourage humans to share and to care, leads to the hypothesis that language is a perceptual system in Gibson’s (1966) sense. Language is a fundamental means of probing what I earlier called dialogical arrays. Language uses gestures that are heard, seen, or felt by others (and the self) to explore the social environment as a means of ascertaining its directions and intentions. Also language explores vicariously the varying perspectives of others on the physical layout and its intentional possibilities (i.e., affordances). Language, as a perceptual system, helps us to explore (just as walking around and looking, or poking, sniffing, and handling do) where we are and where best to go next. Why have we not thought of language as a mode of perception? One possible reason is that language appears to have no has no dedicated sensory anatomy. However, a central reason for Gibson’s (1966) positing of perceptual systems was to challenge the traditional assumption that perceiving was tied to specific anatomical structures. A visual system may include legs. Similarly, a linguistic perceptual system may make use of hands and eyes, as well as ears and vocal tracts, and not just those of one person. Other reasons for not thinking of language as perceptual are that it is viewed as a conveyance (Tomasello et al., 2005) and a code. The former claim assumes that meaning is predetermined and equally available to all. The latter claim is that the meaning is secret and requires a special interpretive framework beyond the code. However, from an ecological perspective, language is not merely public, nor merely private. It makes offerings (i.e., affordances) and those offerings can become gifts (i.e., useful), but only if the recipient engages in the requisite and complementary work entailed in dialogue. Conclusion Tomasello (2000) defends the conservative learning model of language acquisition, for verbs. Essentially, young children’s productions of verb forms are limited to forms that they have previously encountered in the input, at least for children younger than three. After 3, children start to form more abstract adult-like linguistic categories. When children make 'errors', these are purged from children's grammars by (direct or indirect) negative evidence (lack of understanding, corrective feedback),entrenchment (being drowned out by the frequency of a different expression), and preemption(e.g., adult recasts using an alternative expression). These usage-based mechanisms assume the role played by innate constraints on the nativist account (Cowie 1999; but cf. Crain and Pietroski 2001, 2002).Whereas the experience-based account of language acquisition speaks of 'core

phenomena', the nativist account speaks of core grammar. The nativist solution to Plato’s Problem supposes that children are biologically fitted, as part of the human genome, with a universal grammar (e.g., Chomsky 1965, 1975, 1986). The Universal Grammar account views language acquisition as, at least in part, the by-product of a domain-specific computational mechanism. Universal Grammar contains the core principles of language, i.e., principles that are manifested in all human languages. In addition, Universal Grammar spells out particular ways in which human languages can vary. These points of variation are called parameters. Taken together, the principles and parameters of Universal Grammar establish the boundary conditions on what counts as a possible human language. Children are seen to navigate within these boundaries in the course of language development. The universal principles enable children to rapidly and effortlessly acquire any human language without formal instruction and despite the considerable latitude in the experiences of different children. As noted earlier, according to nativists, children's linguistic knowledge is vastly underdetermined by their experience. Concrete instances of ways in which children's linguistic knowledge is underdetermined by their experience are called poverty of stimulus arguments. Based on a series of such arguments, nativists have concluded that children are innately endowed with certain linguistic knowledge, namely the principles and parameters of Universal Grammar. Michael Tomasello's account of language development, and hence of human linguistic uniqueness, differs strongly from the Chomksyan version that is currently dominant in the field of linguistics. Tomasello claims that human language is not due to a genetic endowment unique to the species Homo sapiens, but rather, that humans have certain non-language-specific cognitive and interpersonal capacities that lead them to become full participants in the social use of language. In his current theory, individuals of any species would require the general capacities of intention-reading, relevance assumptions, role reversal imitation, and pattern-finding in order to develop a language. Because these capacities are not conceived of as specifically and autonomously linguistic – but rather as social and cognitive in nature – their presence or absence in prelinguistic human infants and nonhuman apes can be tested for using the experimental methods of developmental psychology and cognitive science. Based on such tests, Tomasello has concluded that whereas human children possess all of the capacities that he deems necessary for language acquisition, there is limited or negative evidence for chimpanzees' capacities to act helpfully, assume helpfulness in others, form joint goals, and construct and conform to group expectations. This thesis raises a degree of skepticism towards Tomasello's claims, citing the growing body of evidence against his specific research findings involving both apes and humans. It further suggests that his overall account of the necessary capacities for language development is both unverified and unverifiable,

and that therefore the issue of human linguistic uniqueness is still an open question.

References Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority.Psychological Monographs, 70 Brown, R. (1973) A First Language: the Early Stages. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press Chomsky, N. (1957) Syntactic Structures, The Hague: Mouton. Chomsky, N. 1965. Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Chomsky, N. 1975. Reflections on Language. New York: Pantheon Books. Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris. Chomsky, N. 1986. Knowledge of language: Its nature, origin and use. New York: Praeger.

Cowie, F. 1999. What's Within: Nativism Reconsidered. New York: Oxford University Press. Crain, S. and Pietroski, P. 2001. Nature, nurture and Universal Grammar. Linguistics and Philosophy 24, 139-185. Crain, S. and Pietroski, P. 2002. Why language acquisition is a snap. The Linguistic Review 19 (1/2), 163-183. Gibson, J.J. (1966). The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Gibson, J.J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Goldberg, A. 2003. Constructions: a new theoretical approach to language. Trends in Cognitive Science 7(5), 219-224. Goldberg, A. 2006. Constructions at Work: The Nature of Generalizations in Language. New York: Oxford University Press. Guasti, M. T. (2002), Language Acquisition: The Growth of Grammar, MIT Press Lenneberg, E. (1976) Understanding language without ability to speak: a case report. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 65: 419-425 Pullum, G. and Scholz, B. 2002. Empirical assessment of the stimulus poverty argument. The Linguistic Review 19, 9-50. Skinner, B.F. 1989 The Origins of Cognitive Thought: Merrill; New York Snow, Catherine E.; and Charles A. Ferguson (eds.) 1977. Talking to children: language input and acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Tomasello, M. 2000. First steps toward a usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cognitive Linguistics 11, 61-82.

Tomasello, M. 2003. Constructing a Language: A Usage-based Theory of Language Acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Tomasello, M. (1995). Language is not an instinct. Cognitive Development, 10(1), 131 – 156. Tomasello, M. (1999). The cultural origins of human cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Tomasello, M. (2003) Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Tomasello, M. (2008). Origins of human communication. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Tomasello, M. (2009). Why we cooperate. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful