Reader Response Exercise

Directions: Read the following text carefully. You will then answer four questions, which ask you to respond to various aspects of the essay.

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Essay Topic: Describe the language acquisition theories of Noam Chomsky and B. F. Skinner.Then compare and contrast these theories.

Language has a very important meaning for everyone. We express our feelings, thoughts, emotions, and we communicate with each other through language. The necessity in language communication appears from the first months of our life. When we grow up, our language develops and improves. Psychologists, sociologists and linguists are all very interested in what are the main factors of language development, and how we acquire our native language skills. For example, the linguist Noam Chomsky and the psychologist B.F. Skinner uncovered these themes in their theories.

Noam Chomsky thought that everybody has knowledge of the grammar of their native language from birth, and nobody needs to learn the grammar specially because we are able to reproduce the phrases in correct word order from our birth. Chomsky explained his theory by childrenís possibilities. It means that children produce correct word order, when they start to produce phrases and simple sentences. They donít need to learn it and try to understand special explanations.

My sonís experience partly supports Chomskyís theory. My son started to create small sentences and phrases when he was approximately one year and six months old. Those phrases and sentences had correct word order according to the rules of our native Russian language. Nobody had taught him specifically; he just produced it naturally. But grammar does not only involve correct word order. I have to explain other grammar aspect to him, and he learns these aspects through communication with environment.

On the other hand the psychologist B.F. Skinner is sure that children have to learn native language grammar, and they get knowledge through the experience of communication. Children learn the rules of their native language on the basis of what they hear. In other words, they copy other peopleís language.

The case of a girl named Genie confirms his theory. Genie didnít have possibility to learn her native language in detail for a long time. Her social isolation continued from the age of eighteen months to the age of thirteen years, so her resulting native language skills were very poor.††††

Obviously, Chomskyís and Skinnerís theories are absolutely opposite. While Chomsky insists that people have an inborn feeling of native language, Skinner is sure that they acquire this feeling in the process of communication and cognition of language. Therefore, Chomskyís theory shows that our speech is reproduced automatically, but Skinnerís theory demonstrates that it happens by replication.

Although we see different views of one topic, we can conclude that both theories make valid points, and that they complement each other. It means, successful language acquisition is result from the knowledge of the grammar and the acquisition of the grammar through communication with environment. We canít develop our native language skills without innate basis, and contrariwise, we canít have only innate knowledge without development through environment.

Scientific interest in the topic of language acquisition shows its importance. What will help us to improve our language possibilities? What period is most opportune for language acquisition? Scientists have tried to give answers to these questions because language has a very important role during all our life.

Natalya Orzheklovskaya
ESL 91
Spring, 2000

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Posted to the Web on October 25, 2001