The development in language is a rapid learning process that begins at birth. Children learn quickly how to communicate their wants and needs first through cries and coos, then to more complex sounds. By age 5, a child's vocabulary has increased tremendously and communication is performed with ease. The process of how language develops has been studied since the beginning of child development and many theories have been proposed, one of which is the nativist language development theory.
Origins of the Nativist Theory of Language Development
Noam Chomsky was the first to propose the nativist theory. He argued that the long-held learning theory of language development did not adequately explain how children were able to develop and master the complex language system in such a comparatively short time frame. Chomsky proposed that learning language was assisted by nature and that humans are born prepared to learn language.
Language is Innate
Chomsky based his theory on language being an innate capability of humans, something that humans were born to do by nature's design. This idea of language being an innate capability of humans has its foundations in that despite cultural differences, all humans develop some form of language skills and it is done with remarkable consistency in terms of the milestones of development. This implies that language development is not reliant on a particular way of teaching children to speak, which does vary from culture to culture.
Language Acuisition Device (LAD)
Chomsky furthered his theory by proposing the existence of the language acquisition device, a brain mechanism that is specialised in detecting and learning the rules of language. The LAD is an inherited or innate part of the brain that is activated when language is heard. With its store of operating principles for language or the universal aspects of language, the LAD then aides the child in learning the language being heard.
Physical Structures of the Brain
Scientist have proven there are portions of the human brain that specialise in processing linguistic information. These areas are consistently more active when speech is being heard or given and are active also with written words. This evidence supports the theory of the LAD.
Criticisms of the Nativist Theory
Although there is proof to support the nativist theory of language development, some people believe there are problems with the theory. One major criticism is that the nativist theory does not address the presence of corrective feedback from adults while the child is learning to speak, relying instead on nature completely to learn language. Another criticism is that the nativist theory predicts that children will learn and develop normal language regardless of the quality of the language heard to activate the LAD. This has been found to not hold true in studies of children who are exposed to a higher amount of incorrect grammar and poor language skills. Children in those studies did not tend to develop normal language skills but instead developed skills more like those they were exposed to the most. Finally, critics argue that nativist have yet to discover one universal grammar element that is found in every known language, which is the basis for the LAD's ability to be the driving force behind language development.
- Child Development: Principles and Perspectives; Joan Littlefield Cook and Greg Cook; 2005