The of language, accepted by the psycholinguistic and

The understanding of how
language is acquired, and the role the brain plays in the language acquisition
process are crucial because the development of language is considered a crucial
element of human development. The analysis of language development is
intrinsically connected with one’s awareness of how human beings or human
brains perceive, learn, control, and coordinate elaborate behaviour. The study
of language development, therefore, involves research on motor, perceptual, and
cognitive development. This paper reviews the three major theories of language
acquisition, namely, behaviouristic, psycholinguistic, and interactionist and
examines the biological component of language acquisition and the brain’s role
in the language development process.

The development of
language is generally considered to be determined by factors in both the
environment and a person’s neurobiological make-up. Theories of language
acquisition fall within three major schools of thought, namely, the
behavioristic, the psycholinguistic (also referred to as nativistic or
mentalistic), and the interactionist (also referred to as cognitive) perspectives.
This paper defines each of these perspectives and examines the biological
component of language, accepted by the psycholinguistic and interactionist
proponents alike. In examining the biological component of language, this paper
also discusses the critical period for language acquisition, theories of
language development from the biological perspective, as well as information
from studies ofindividuals with neurological or biological dysfunction. The
study of the language development of persons with specific types of brain
damage or other biological disturbances has provided much information regarding
the brain’s role in the language process. Finally, this paper discusses how
these innate, biological factors, influence the acquisition of  language.

 

The first perspective of
language acquisition to be discussed in this paper is the behaviouristic
position (SKINNER, 1987), which builds on learning principles to explain
language acquisition. Behaviourists believe that the learner begins with no
knowledge of language but possesses the competence to learn it. Specifically,
they contend that one learns through the reinforcement of imitation. For
instance, infants repeat words or babbles after their parents without having a
clear knowledge of the meaning of those words. This reinforcement ofbabbling
and the shaping ofvocal behaviour account for the very first stage of leaming.
The child’s babbling will later tum into words that will subsequently be
associated with meanings and promote communication. According to the
behaviouristic perspective, language is acquired from factors in the
environment Behaviourists believe that the development of language is a
function of stimulus, response, and reinforcement2. Behaviourists view the
language learner as a language  producing
machine. Language input is made available to the learner in the form of
stimuli/ feedback. In the behaviouristic model, the learner is passive, and the
environment is the determining factor. Another perspective of language learning
is the psycholinguistic position. The proponents of this approach argue that
the leaner is the grand initiator of all language learning. The learner
possesses an innate capacity for dealing with language and activates a theory
or process of grammar (grammatical theory) to help understand and produce an
innumerable number of phrases or sentences. Language input is, therefore, of
little consequence other than being only a trigger of the innate mental
processes to begin language formation. Psycholinguists claim that none of the learner’s
output can be explained in terms of the characteristics of the input Instead,
the learner is biologically predisposed to learn languages as the brain
develops, and the environment simply triggers its emergence. Noam Chomsky
(1965, 1980, 2005Y, the most famous ofthe psycholinguists, calledthis innate or
biological component the Language AcquisitionDevice (LAD). A third perspective
is that of the interactionists. Proponents of the interactionistic perspective
claim that the development of language is the result of interaction between the
learner’s mental abilities and the linguistic environment (see for example
CHAPMAN, 2000; HUITT; HUMMEL, 2003; PIAGET, 1954, 1999). The learner acquires
language through the interaction ofperceptual-cognitive capacities and
experiences. The learner’s environment and neurological maturation determine
learning. Therefore, language and thought are simultaneously developed as the
learner passes through a series of fixed developmental stages requiring more
and more complex strategies of cognitive organization. Interactionists consider
the capacity for learning language to be innate. Interactionists claim that the
learner must internalize linguistic structures from the environment and must
become aware of the social function of communication. Thus, the important data
are not only the utterances produced by the learner, but the discourse which
learner and caretaker (e.g., father and/or mother) jointly construct. Piaget
(1954, 1999; PIAGET; INHELDER, 1969), the major proponent of the
interactionistic position, believed that the child’s environment and
neurological maturation determine learning. As a result, language development
programs based on the interactionistic perspective are based on two ideas:
“(a) meaning is brought to a child’s language through interaction with the
environment, and (b) the child uses speech to control the environment”
(MERCER, 1997, p.418).

In summary, the above
discussion shows that these three perspectives overlap and complement each
other. While behaviourists claim that learning is the result of input from the
linguistic environment, psycholinguists believe that language input works only
as a trigger ofthe innate mental processes that is responsible for language
formation. This means that the linguistic environment contributes little to
language learning. Interactionists, on the other hand, combine the
behaviouristic and the psycholinguistic perspectives, as they believe that the
interaction between the learner’s mental abilities and the linguistic environment
promotes the development of language.