Language is present in all languages and adapts to

Language development, in particular oral language, is regarded as one of
children’s most impressive accomplishments during the first 5 years of life (Genishi, 1988)

It is commonly considered
to be a result of both environmental and biological factors combined. There are
many theories of language acquisition which generally fall within three major schools of
thought, namely, the behaviorist, the psycholinguistic), and the interactionist
(also referred to as cognitive) perspectives. This paper defines each of these
perspectives and examines the biological component of language, accepted by the
psycholinguistic and interactionist proponents alike. In examining the
biological component of language, this paper also discusses the critical period
for language acquisition, theories of language development from the biological
perspective, as well as information from studies of individuals with
neurological or biological dysfunction. The study of the language development
of persons with specific types of brain damage or other biological disturbances
has provided much information regarding the brain’s role in the language
process. Finally, this paper discusses how these innate, biological factors,
influence the acquisition of language.

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The notion that children possess the innate structure which assists them
in the acquisition of language is more commonly associated with Naom
Chomsky.  Chomsky
(1957,1968) believed that children’s’
abilities to understand and use a language system that is complex in nature in a
short period of time while still often hearing incorrect or incomplete language
suggests that children must be born with innate tools to assist them in
understanding and thus learning the language that they hear (Keenan, 2002).  It is suggested throughouth language acquisition research that children
are inherently predisposed to listen to and respond to language and that
everyone has an innate mental structure called a Language Acquisition Device. Chomsky
(1968.)  This device contains information about universal grammar that is
present in all languages and adapts to the language the child hears to enable
them to understand the language and use it in the grammatically correct way
(Keenan, 2002)

The similarities that can
be seen in young children when learning different languages imply that biology offers
a huge contribution to language acquisition (MacNeilage
et al., 2000). But must we attribute language development to the
mysterious workings of an LAD or LMC to explain these linguistic universals?
Apparently not. According to the interactionist viewpoint, young children the
world over talk alike and display other linguistic universals because they are
all members of the same species who share many common experiences. What is
innate is not any specialized linguistic knowledge or processing skills but a
sophisticated brain that matures very slowly and predisposes children to
develop similar ideas at about the same age—ideas that they are then motivated
to express in their own speech (Bates, 1999; Tomasello,
1995). Indeed, there is ample support for links between general
cognitive development and language development. For example, words are symbols,
and infants typically speak their fi rst meaningful words at about 12 months of
age, shortly after they display a capacity for symbolism in pretend play and
their deferred imitation of adult models (Meltzoff,
1988c). Furthermore, we will see that infants’ fi rst words center
heavily on objects they have manipulated or on actions they have performed—in
short, on aspects of experience they can understand through their sensorimotor
schemes (Pan & Gleason, 1997). Finally,
words like “gone” and “oh oh” emerge during the second year, about the same
time infants are mastering object permanence and are beginning to appraise the
success or failure of their problem-solving activities (Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1987). So infants and toddlers often seem to
talk about whatever cognitive understandings they are acquiring at the moment.
Like the nativists, then, interactionists believe that children are
biologically prepared to acquire a language. However, the preparation consists
not of an LAD or LMC but a powerful human brain that slowly matures, allowing
children to gain more and more knowledge, which gives them more to talk about (MacNeilage et al., 2000). However, this does not mean
that biological maturation and cognitive development totally explain language
development. Elizabeth Bates (1999) argues that
grammatical speech arises out of social necessity: as children’s vocabularies
increase beyond 100 to 200 words, they must find ways of organizing all this
linguistic knowledge to produce utterances that others will understand.
Consistent with Bates’s idea, there is a strong relationship between the A
young boy at the Alice Fung Yu public school in San Francisco. This is a
Chinese language emersion program where students, beginning in kindergarten,
speak and write only Chinese in their daily lessons. Learning a second language
early in life may be easier than trying to learn one as a teenager or an adult.
Andy Sacks/Stone/Getty Images interactionist theory the notion that biological
factors and environmental influences interact to determine the course of
language development. 396 Part Three | Cognitive Development number of words
young children have acquired and the grammatical complexity of their utterances
(Robinson & Mervis, 1998) (see Figure 10.3).
But how might young children discover subtle points of grammar without the aid
of a specialized linguistic processor? Here is where the linguistic environment
comes into play.

Chomsky’s (1968)
Language Acquisition Device has also been strongly criticized.  The main
criticism is that there is no evidence for either the existence of universal
grammar or the existence of such a device in the brain.  It is also
suggested that if such a complex device did exist then children would acquire
language much quicker than they actually do (Keenan, 2002).  Another
criticism of Chomsky’s theory is that it indicates that children are not active
in their own language acquisition.  Research by Bates et al (1975) has shown how even very young children play an active role
in the pre-verbal and verbal exchanges they have with others (cited in Bancroft, 1995).  This suggests they do not just
passively absorb language but actively acquire it.  Furthermore, in
contrast of Chomsky’s view that children hear incomplete and incorrect
language, research has shown that adults in many cultures adapt their speech
when talking to children so that it is easier for them to understand. 
This adaptation could make it simpler for a child to learn both meanings of
words and the grammatical systems that exist (Lloyd, 1995).  Chomsky’s (1968)
Language Acquisition Device shows how the development of language may be aided
by an innate predisposition and mental structure but its many criticisms and
the fact that it does not view the child in its social context mean that this
theory alone does not effectively explain how children acquire language.