The theory of language development by Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky (Philadelphia, United States, 1928) is one of the most recognized thinkers today . His work is extensive and multifaceted: he has developed theories, studies and in-depth knowledge in the field of linguistics, development psychology, philosophy and political analysis.
In today's article we are going to summarize Chomsky's contributions in the psychology of language. The popular American intellectual has laid the foundations of current lines of research on cognitive science.
- To delve into this author: "Noam Chomsky: biography of an anti-system linguist"
The development of language: programmed for speech?
According to Noam Chomsky's research, children are born with an innate capacity for speech . They are capable of learning and assimilating communicative and linguistic structures. Thanks to the Theory of Universal Grammar, Chomsky proposed a new paradigm in the development of language. According to its postulates, all the languages that human beings use have common characteristics in their own structure.
From this evidence, Professor Chomsky deduces that The acquisition of language during childhood can occur thanks to the ability of human beings to recognize and assimilate the basic structure of language , structure that constitutes the essential root of any language.
The Universal Grammar
The theory of language development during childhood that Noam Chomsky enunciated is based on a controversial precept: "Human language is the product of deciphering a program determined by our genes." This position clashes diametrically with the environmental theories of development, which emphasize the role of the influence of the environment on the individual and the ability of the individual to adapt to the different contexts that they have to live.
In addition, Chomsky states that children have the innate ability to understand the grammar of language , skill that they develop through their experiences and learning. regardless of their family or cultural context. To designate this innate artifact to understand grammar, Chomsky uses the term "Universal Grammar", common in all language systems known to date.
Plasticity to acquire the language
It is well known that, during childhood, There is a "critical" period during which it is easier for us to learn the language . This period of greater cerebral plasticity during which we are a sponge for languages goes from birth to pre-adolescence.
Chomsky, through his review of the work of the German neurologist and linguist Eric Lenneberg , emphasizes that children go through a stage of what he calls "language alert". During this key period, the comprehension and ability to learn new languages is greater compared to other life stages. In the words of Chomsky himself, "We all go through a specific maturational period in which, thanks to adequate external stimuli, our ability to speak a language will develop rapidly."
Therefore, children who are taught several languages during their childhood and pre-adolescence, surely they will be able to acquire correctly the bases of these languages . This does not happen with adults, since their plasticity, their ability to acquire languages is no longer in such good shape.
How is language acquisition produced?
According to Noam Chomsky's theory, the process of language acquisition only occurs if the child deduces the implicit norms of language, such as the notions of syntactic structure or grammar.
For us to be able to develop and learn language during childhood, Chomsky argued that we all have a "language acquisition device" in our brain . The hypothesis of the existence of this device would enable us to learn the norms and recurrences that constitute language. Over the years, Noam Chomsky went over his theory and included the analysis of several guiding principles of language, in relation to the acquisition of it during childhood.
These principles, such as the existence of grammar and several syntactic rules, are common to all languages. On the other hand, there are other elements that vary depending on the language we study.
The learning process and the evolution of the language
As Chomsky explains, human language allows us to express an infinity of ideas, information and emotions . Consequently, language is a social construction that does not stop evolving.The society is setting the guidelines on the norms and common uses of the language, both in its oral and written versions.
In fact, it is very common for children to use language in a very particular way: mixing concepts, inventing words, deforming others, constructing sentences in their own way ... Little by little, their brain assimilates the rules and recurrences of the language, committing each less time mistakes and properly using the wide range of artifacts that language provides.
Critics and controversies around Chomsky's theory
The theory of the Universal Grammar that Noam Chomsky formulated does not have unanimity within the scientific community and academic. In fact, it is an idea that, although it had a strong impact on the study of language acquisition, is considered outdated, and Chomsky himself has changed his position in this regard. Critical currents argue that, with the idea of Universal Grammar, Chomsky made a mistake in his postulates: overgeneralization.
The sectors that have most questioned Chomsky's theory reject the postulate of the language acquisition device because, they argue, it does not have any kind of empirical support. Other scholars have criticized the theory of the American linguist for his excessive innatism , and therefore not sufficiently collect environmental factors in the acquisition of language.
These criticisms have led Chomsky to revise and modify some aspects of his postulates over the years, while at the same time adding new evidences and complementary aspects to this body of knowledge.