Early language development is broken down into three theories; the behaviorist perspective, the nativist perspective and the interactionist perspective.
The Behaviorist Perspective
Created by B.F. Skinner in 1957, this perspective claims that language is acquired through reinforcement or operant conditioning (Berk, 2012, p232). 7As the child hears words and repeats them, behavior is positively reinforced creating the foundations of language development. What this theory fails to acknowledge is that children string together words to form sentences that they have not previously heard.
The Nativist Perspective
“Linguist Noam Chomsky (1957) proposed a nativist account that regards the young child’s amazing language skill as a uniquely human accomplishment, etched into the structure of the brain” (Berk, 2012, p232). This perspective claims that language skills are too complex to be learned, so they must be preprogramed with the skills needed to acquire language development. Scientists base these claims on studies of the Bronca’s and Wernicke’s areas of the brain. It has been found that damage to these areas causes impairments in word formation and/or comprehension. The problem with this theory is that a universal language and grammatical structure does not exist. How does it account for variances in languages across the world and knowledge of grammar within each language?
The Interactionist Perspective
The interactionist perspective combines elements from both theories to present a nature and nurture version of language development. They believe that language abilities are provided by the brain and formed through social interactions and experiences.
Social and Cultural Factors
Many social and cultural factors play a role in how and when language skills are acquired. These factors include parenting styles, gender, temperament, environment and culture. For example, girls generally grow at a faster pace than boys in this area (Berk, 2012, p240; Fenson et al., 1994). The environment that a child is raised in shows us that “the more words caregivers use, the more children learn” (Weizman & Snow, 2001). Meanwhile, the culture sets the stage for language styles, reflections and vocabulary (Berk, 2012, p241).
Promoting Language Acquisition
Promoting language skills within the family is of the most utmost importance. Parents and caregivers can encourage positive development by engaging their children in conversation, responding to words and sounds with encouragement and reading to their children often. These steps will lay the foundation needed for strong cognitive development and language skills.
Berk, L.E. (2012. Infants, children, and adolescents (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. ISBN: 9708025718160
Chomsky, N. (1957). Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton.
Fenson, L., Dale, P.S., Reznick, J.S., Bates, E., Thal, D.J., & Pethick, S.J. (1994). Variability in early communicative development. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 59(5, Serial No. 242).
Weizman, Z.O., & Snow, C.E. (2001). Lexical output as related to children’s vocabulary acquisition: Effects of sophisticated exposure and support for meaning. Developmental Psychology, 37, 265-279.