Theories Of Primary Language Acquisition

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Two theories of primary language acquisition emerged from 1950s psychological research: B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist theory and Noam Chomsky’s biological theory of language development. Primary language acquisition addresses specifically the way in which an infant’s native language is beginning to form, starting at birth. Primary language acquisition continues to develop throughout the rest of childhood within the critical period. Skinner argued that children acquire and develop language based purely on the behaviorist theory, which states behaviors are developed and focused around conditioning. If a certain behavior produces a positive outcome, the individual is more likely to repeat that behavior. However, if a certain behavior produces a negative outcome, the individual is less likely to repeat that specific behavior. Conditioning, whether classical or operant, was the sole basis on which children acquired language. In his Verbal Behavior, Skinner gives the following example: “Out! Has the same ultimate effect as turning the knob and pushing against the door. The explanation of both behaviors is the same.” (Skinner, 1949, p. 35) In this form of operant conditioning, “Each response is acquired and continues to be maintained in strength because it is frequently followed by an appropriate consequence.” (Skinner, 1949, p. 35) Because “Out!” is followed by the “appropriate consequence,” i.e., successfully opening and leaving through the door, the behavior is likely to be
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