Language acquisition is the process by which humans acquire the capacity to perceive and comprehend language, as well as to produce and use words to communicate. The capacity to successfully use language requires one to acquire a range of tools including syntax, phonetics, and an extensive vocabulary.
Behavioural theory assumes that children imitate what they hear, and thanks to continuous, positive reinforcement, children learn language through conditioning and habit formation. Behaviourist theorists such as Skinner also claim that all errors during first language acquisition are due to ‘bad habit formation,’ which, in due course, children correct as they hear and imitate accurate speech. In contrast to behaviourists, ‘nativists,’ like Chomsky, believe that human beings are born with an innate capacity for language development. Deliberations continue between linguists regarding the importance of ‘nature’ over ‘nurture’ in acquisition of language.
One important discovery using this technique has come from the work of Saffran and colleagues, who have examined the powerful role that statistical learning—the detection of consistent patterns of sounds—plays in infant word segmentation. Syllables that are part of the same word tend to follow one another predictably, whereas syllables that span word boundaries do not. More specifically, infants do not detect merely how frequently syllable pairs occur, but rather the probabilities with which one syllable predicts another.
The Language Acquisition Device (LAD) is a hypothetical brain mechanism that Noam Chomsky postulated to explain human acquisition of the syntactic structure of language. This mechanism endows children with the capacity to derive the syntactic structure and rules of their native language rapidly and accurately from the impoverished input provided by adult language users. The LAD reflects Chomsky's underlying assumption that many aspects of language are universal (common to all languages and cultures) and constrained by innate core knowledge about language called Universal Grammar.
The Chomskian paradigm postulates the mental segregation of the linguistic faculty: Language is as it is because of the structure of the human mind, but language is unlike the rest of the mind in some respects because the mental organ devoted to language is unlike the rest of the mind (in just those respects necessary to explain the difference).
As children develop their ability to use language, they become more and more understanding of social situations and learn how to control their own actions and thoughts. By listening to children's self-corrections, questions, and language play, we realize the extent of their knowledge of language structure. Their active, creative invention of language is amazing and unique to each child. Language development is a gradual process and reflects
a childs cognitive capacities.
The ability to produce speech sounds begins to emerge around six months of age, with the onset of babbling; It is likely that babbling provides children with the opportunity to experiment with and begin to gain control over their vocal apparatus—an important prerequisite for later speech. Despite obvious differences among the languages to which they are exposed, children from different linguistic communities exhibit significant similarities in their babbling.
Children acquire language quickly, easily, and without effort or formal teaching. It happens automatically, whether their parents try to teach them or not. Children acquire language through interaction — not only with their parents and other adults, but also with other children. And it is just as easy for a child to acquire two or more languages at the same time, as long as they are regularly interacting with speakers of those languages.
Pinker outlines his argument: “Language is a distinct piece of the biological makeup of our brains. Language is a complex, specialized skill, which develops in the child spontaneously, without conscious effort or formal instruction, is deployed without awareness of its underlying logic, is qualitatively the same in every individual and is distinct from more general abilities to process information or behave intelligently.”
Without a doubt, language has biological basis. A multitude of neuronal structures and fiber pathways are involved in the formulation, expression, and comprehension of speech and verbal thought (Joseph 253). Close studying of the organization of language in the brain may give us important clue as to how much language acquisition is governed by biological structures.
A biologically determined period of life when language can be acquired. The critical period hypothesis claims that there is such a biological timetable. Initially, the notion of a critical period was connected only to first language acquisition. Pathological studies of children who acquired their first language, or aspects thereof, became fuel for arguments of biologically determined predispositions, timed for release, which would wane if the correct environmental stimuli were not present at the crucial stage.