Ans. The manner in which a child acquires language is a matter long debated by linguists and child psychologists alike. During the twentieth century there has been a great deal of psycholinguistic research into how this process takes place. These research findings have revolutionized the way many linguists regard the language learning process. However, the interpretation of these investigations has always been under dispute and it has consequently divided linguists into adherents of two contradictory hypotheses: behaviorism on one side and innatism on the other. The following segment presents a comparative study between these two diametrically opposite theoretical accounts of language acquisition, along with a brief inquiry into their theoretical assumptions.
Behaviourism states that children learn from environments, and develop skills through stimulus-response-reinforcement process. Behaviourist theorists believe children are born with “tabula rasa” or a blank slate. They learn from parents, neighbours, and the environment. The theory also suggests that people can be conditioned to behave in a certain way. The behaviourist theorists do not consider biological backgrounds, individual personality characteristics, and personal thinking process or ideas. They only believe in “right conditioning” (Cherry, 2015). In terms of language acquisition, the behaviourist theorists argue that learners can develop proficiency if they are put in a situation when they repeatedly respond to positive stimuli. Through repetition, they will be conditioned to perform well.
On the other hand, innatist view of language acquisition suggests that children are born with the language learning ability. Chomsky says that children come to this world with some sorts of mental ability to learn a language. The evidence of his claims is that children acquire the grammar of their first language in first three /four years. Innatist views also state that children learn through mistakes, not by following fixed/rigid rules.