Noam Chomsky (Philadelphia, United States, 1928) is one of the most recognized thinkers today. His work is vast and multifaceted: he has developed in-depth theories, studies and knowledge in the fields of linguistics, developmental psychology, philosophy and political analysis.
In today’s article, we will summarize Chomsky’s contributions to the psychology of language. The popular American intellectual laid the foundations for current lines of research in cognitive science.
- To learn more about this author: “Noam Chomsky: Biography of an Anti-System Linguist”
Language development: programmed for speech?
According to research by Noam Chomsky, children are born with an innate ability to speak. They are able to learn and assimilate communicative and linguistic structures. Thanks to the theory of universal grammar, Chomsky proposed a new paradigm in the development of language. According to their postulates, all languages used by humans have common characteristics in their own structure.
From this proof, Professor Chomsky deduces that language acquisition in childhood can occur through the ability we humans have to recognize and assimilate the basic structure of language, Structure which constitutes the essential root of any language.
Noam Chomsky’s theory of language development in childhood is based on a controversial precept: “Human language is the product of the deciphering of a program determined by our genes.” This position clashes diametrically with ecological theories of development, which underline the role of the influence of the environment on the individual and his capacity to adapt to the different contexts in which he lives.
Additionally, Chomsky states that children have the innate ability to understand the grammar of the language, Skills they develop through their experiences and learning. whatever their family or cultural background. To designate this innate artefact of understanding grammar, Chomsky uses the term “universal grammar”, common to all linguistic systems known to this day.
Plasticity to acquire language
It is well known that during childhood there is a “critical” period when it is easier for us to learn the language. This period of greater brain plasticity during which we are a sponge for the tongues goes from birth to pre-adolescence.
Chomsky, through his review of the work of the German linguist and neurologist Eric Lenneberg, Stresses that children go through a stage of what he calls “language alert”. During this key period, the understanding and ability to learn new languages is greater than at other vital stages. In Chomsky’s own words, “We all go through a specific period of maturation in which, with the right external stimuli, our ability to speak a language will develop rapidly.”
Therefore, children who learn several languages during their childhood and pre-adolescence, they will surely be able to correctly acquire the bases of these languages. This is not the case with adults, because their plasticity and their ability to acquire languages are no longer in such good condition.
How does language acquisition take place?
According to the theory of Noam Chomsky, the process of language acquisition only takes place if the child infers implicit standards of language, such as notions of syntactic or grammatical structure.
In order for us to develop and learn the language in childhood, Chomsky argued that we all have a “language acquisition device” in our brain. The hypothesis of the existence of this device would allow us to learn the rules and recurrences which constitute language. Over the years, Noam Chomsky revised his theory and included the analysis of various guiding principles of language, in relation to its acquisition during childhood.
These principles, such as the existence of grammar and various syntactic rules, are common to all languages. However, there are other elements that vary depending on the language we are studying.
The learning process and the evolution of the language
As Chomsky explains, human language allows us to express countless ideas, information and emotions. Therefore, language is a constantly evolving social construct. The company establishes guidelines on common rules and uses of the language, both oral and written.
In fact, it is very common for children to use language in a very particular way: mixing concepts, inventing words, distorting others, constructing sentences in their own way … Little by little, their brain assimilates the rules. and language recurrences, doing less. and fewer errors and correctly using the wide range of artifacts provided by the language.
Criticisms and controversies around Chomsky’s theory
The theory of Universal Grammar formulated by Noam Chomsky is not unanimous within the scientific community and academic. In fact, it is an idea which, although it has 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 maintain that with the idea of Universal Grammar, Chomsky made an error in his postulates: over-generalization.
The sectors that most questioned Chomsky’s theory reject the postulate of the language acquisition device because, they argue, it lacks any kind of empirical support. Other researchers have criticized the American linguist’s theory for its excessiveness, And therefore for not sufficiently collecting the environmental factors in the acquisition of the language.
These critiques have led Chomsky to revise and modify some aspects of his postulates over the years, while adding new evidence and complementary aspects to this body of knowledge.