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Theories on Child Language Acquisition

Child language acquisition is both a creative and innate strategy which reveals the Psychological background of the Language. Innate hypothesis is the pre Knowledge of the language. Human beings have born with this ability of internalizing the first Language with the help of the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) children acquire the structural regularities of their mother  tongue (Li) from the environment. This happens in the critical period of the Language development which is identified as six months to three years.


Chomsky, The great linguist in the 21st century explained the Language acquisition of a human child is completely a biological process and it is connected with the human brain. By then structural Linguists analyzed the Language by pattern practicing. They explained that the L1 acquisition is just done by the imitation. Most of their ideas were based on the psychological theories of B.F. Skinner. Skinner mentioned that the language is a set of habits. (1957 verbal behavior). Chomsky Criticized the ideas expressed in ”verbal behavior” and he emphasized, although the human child born with blank sheets in their minds they are prepared to acquire the Language from the environment. This is a unique feature of the human is called the competency of L1.The Device in the human brain which helps to internalize the language is called (LAD) – Language acquisition device. A child who is in his critical age of L1 acquisition acquires the first language from the language environment he exposes with the help of LAD. There the child internalizes the grammar.  LAD is the device that generates all the accepted sentences/ utterances of the Language and none of the unaccepted ones.


B.F. skinner and Charles Osgood came up with the oldest theories regarding L1 acquisition. The Theory is behaviorism. B.F. Skinner was a behaviorist psychologist. He forwarded his ideas on first Language acquisition in ”The verbal behavior” published in 1957. Behaviorist explained that the L1 is acquired by children imitating their parents. Theory of stimulus and respond is Significant in these phenomena. Skinner argued that language is also a behavior similar to any other behaviors followed by them. In 1957 Noam Chomsky came up with revolutionized the ideas on L1 acquisition with the theory of Generative Transformational Grammar. He further explained that the Language is a unique feature possessed only by human beings. According to Chomsky Language is an inborn ability of the human being. Human child has the innate ability of acquiring a language. The competency of acquiring a language from whichever the environment he exposes. 1970’s Paige forwarded the cognitive theory. It says that the ”Language is a subordinate part of cognitive development. Social Interaction theory was accepted by H.A. Gleason and it says Language is learnt though active interaction between the child and the environment. In other words Language acquisition is a process of socialization.


Vindhya Weerawardhana

Department of LinguisticsUniversity of Kelaniya



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