During the past forty years there have been two major theories of language learning by children. But there are two major schools of thought known as, Behaviorists and Mentalists. One school is of the view that language learning is entirely the product of experience and that our environment affects all of us. Others have suggested that everybody has an innate language learning mechanism. Let us discovery with the help of these two schools of thought that how do children acquire their mother tongue. How do they grow up linguistically and learn to handle the stylistics varieties of their mother tongue? How much of the linguistics system they are born with and how much do they discover from their exposure to language?
a) The Behaviorist School
B.F. Skinner and his followers are known as behaviorist. According to them language learning is process known as operant conditioning. Conditioned Behavior is behavior which is the result of repeated training. Operant means that it is voluntary behavior, it is result of learners own free will, and it is not forced by any outside person or thing. The learner demonstrates the new behavior first as a response to a system of reward or punishment, and finally as an automatic response. In order to prove their theory they conducted an experiment.
They put a rat in a box containing a bar. If it presses a bar, it is rewarded with a pellet of food. Nothing forces it to press the bar. The first time it probably does so accidentally. When the rat finds that the food arrives, it presses the bar again. Eventually it finds that if it is hungry it can obtain food by pressing the bar. Then task is made more difficult. The rat only gets rewarded if it presses the bar while a light is flashing. At first rat is puzzled. Eventually it learns the trick. Then the task is made more difficult again. This time the rat only receives food if it presses the bar a certain number of times. After initial confusion it learns to do this also. And so on, and so on. Operant condition can be summarized thus
STIMULUS RESPONSE REINFORCEMENT REPETITION
In operant conditioned, reinforcement plays a vital role. There are two kinds of reinforcement:
A) Positive Reinforcement
Praise and rewards are positive reinforcement. Experiments have shown that positive reinforcement works much better in bringing about good learning.
B) Negative Reinforcement
Rebukes and punishments are negative reinforcement.
The behaviorists also claim that we learn language by imitation and association. For example, a young child hears the word water with the actual thing. He then makes this sound himself, imitating what he has heard. His parents are pleased that he has learnt another word and so his response is reinforced. The thoughts of behaviorist school can well be understood according to following tree diagram.
The Behaviorist School
Language learning is Positive Imitation Operant conditioning and and Negative Association Reinforcement
Noam Chomsky explicitly rejects the behaviorists position that language should be thought of as verbal behavior, arguing that it should be thought of as knowledge held by those who use language. Chomsky suggests that the learner of any language has an inbuilt learning capacity for language that enables each learner to construct a kind of personal theory or set of rules about the language based on very limited exposure to language.
b) The Mentalist School
Chomsky and his mentalist followers claim that a child learns his first language through cognitive learning. They claim that language is governed by rules, and is not a haphazard thing, as Skinner and his followers would claim. According to Chomsky, the child is born with a mental capacity for working out the underlying system to the jumble of sounds which he hears. He constructs his own grammar and imposes it on all the sounds reaching his brain. This mental grammar is part of his cognitive framework, and nothing he hears is stored in his brain until he has matched it against what he already knows and found a correct place for it within this framework.
Chomsky argues that language is so complex that it is almost incredible that it can be acquired by a child in so short a time. He says that a child is born with some innate mental capacity which helps the child to process all the language which he hears. This is called the Language Acquisition Device, and he saws it as comprising a special area of the brain whose only function was the processing of language. This function, he argues, is quite separate from any other mental capacity which the child has.
When Chomsky talks about rules, he means the unconscious rules in a childs mind these rules enables him to make grammatical sentences in his own language. Chomsky does not mean that a child can describes these rules explicitly. For example, a four or five year old child can produce a sentence like I have done my work; he can do that because he has a mental grammar which enables him to form correct present perfect structures and also to use such structures in the right and appropriate situations. But he is unable to define the formation of present perfect tense. The thoughts of Mentalists can well be understood with the help of the following tree diagram.
The Mentalists School
Language learning Input Mental grammar Is an (own rules) Innate ability LAD
Grammatical Output sentences
Both the schools have said significant things, yet neither is perfect. The mentalists emphasis on the rule-learning is over enthusiastic, and the behaviorists rejection of meaning is entirely unjust. Language acquisition seems to be a process both of analogy and application, both nature and nurture. The differences between the empiricists approach and that of the rationalist can be summarized in the following manner: BEHAVIOURISTS APPROACH MENTALIST APPROACH
This comparative study makes one thing clear: nature and nurture, analogy and application, practice and exposure are important. Innate potentialities lay down the framework. Within this framework, there is wide variation depending on the environment. The kind of language that children ultimately grow into shaped by the culture-based responses of the family, if not in a way that can be called imitation, then at least in terms of things the child chooses to do with its language. But we should be wary of the idea that all children experience the same practices and follow the same development path as they grow into their language.
Having been exposed to a small number of utterances, the child begins to extract the principles underlying the utterances and compose new utterances of his own. This is the way every child grammar to communicate in an intelligent manner. He makes mistakes and produces ungrammatical sentences. His elders correct him; he feeds the information into his mini-grammar, modifies some of the rules, and again produces new utterances. In a period of about four years, he is able to master and internalize all the essential rules of language. This is a proof that a childs own rules of grammar are more important to him than mere imitation.