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Language and Cognition

Theories of Language Acquisition

The Structure of Language

Theories of Language Acquisition, page 2

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The nature vs. nurture debate extends to the topic of language acquisition. Today, most researchers acknowledge that both nature and nurture play a role in language acquisition. However, some researchers emphasize the influences of learning on language acquisition, while others emphasize the biological influences.

Environmental Influences on Language Acquisition

A major proponent of the idea that language depends largely on environment was the behaviorist B. F. Skinner (see pages 145 and 276 for more information on Skinner). He believed that language is acquired through principles of conditioning, including association, imitation, and reinforcement.

According to this view, children learn words by associating sounds with objects, actions, and events. They also learn words and syntax by imitating others. Adults enable children to learn words and syntax by reinforcing correct speech.

Critics of this idea argue that a behaviorist explanation is inadequate. They maintain several arguments: