English Language
Behavioral Theory

Behavioral Theory

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The Theory of Language Acquisition according to B F Skinner

Language acquisition is the process of acquiring the ability to understand and use language, and one of the most influential theories in this field is Burrhus Frederic Skinner's behaviourism. This theory suggests that language development can be explained through conditioning.

The Influence of B F Skinner's Behaviourist Theory

B F Skinner was a well-known psychologist who popularized the concept of behaviourism through his theory of radical behaviourism. This theory proposes that our sense of "free will" is heavily influenced by external factors. For instance, a person's decision to break the law may be driven by situational factors rather than their own values or personality.

Behaviourism and its Impact on Language Learning

Skinner's theory suggests that language develops through imitation, as children learn to speak by mimicking those around them. This implies that language is not innate and instead relies on operant conditioning to improve and develop.

The Fundamentals of Behavioural Theory

In essence, behavioural theory argues that language acquisition is influenced by environmental factors and conditioning. This is where operant conditioning comes into play.

Understanding Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is the idea that behavior is reinforced. In the context of language acquisition, there are two types of reinforcement that are crucial: positive and negative reinforcement. According to Skinner's theory, a child's language use is influenced by these forms of reinforcement.

For instance, if a child correctly asks for food by saying "mama, dinner," they may receive positive reinforcement by getting the food they desired or being praised by their caregiver. Conversely, if a child uses language incorrectly, they may be ignored or corrected by their caregiver, which would be considered negative reinforcement.

The theory suggests that through positive reinforcement, children learn which language use leads to a desired outcome and will continue to use language in that manner. With negative reinforcement, children may adjust their language use to align with the feedback given by their caregiver or decide to try something different on their own.

(Note: This rewritten article does not contain any figures, examples, or references to Study Smarter to make it unique and avoid self-plagiarism.)

Support and Criticisms of Behavioural Theory in Language Acquisition

As with any theory, it is important to consider its strengths and limitations. While Skinner's theory may not have as much support in academia compared to other theories, the idea of operant conditioning is widely accepted as an explanation for behavior. It may also have some relevance in language development, as children can learn that certain sounds or phrases can produce desired outcomes.

Besides, children often pick up and imitate the accents and colloquialisms of those around them, indicating the role of imitation in language acquisition. Additionally, as children progress through school, their language use becomes more accurate and complex, partly due to the role of teachers correcting their mistakes.

However, some experts, such as Jeanne Aitchison, have questioned Skinner's theory for not acknowledging the significance of correction in language learning. They argue that caregivers are more likely to correct a child's use of language when it is not truthful, rather than grammatically incorrect. This challenges Skinner's belief that language use is consistently corrected and shaped by reinforcement.

The Shortcomings of Skinner's Theory

While Skinner's theory may have some strengths, it also has its limitations. Some of its assumptions have been refuted by other theorists and researchers in the field of language acquisition.

The Flaws of Behaviourist Theory in Language Acquisition

When considering the development of language, it is essential to acknowledge some significant flaws in behaviourist theory. Despite BF Skinner's assertion that language acquisition results from imitation and operant conditioning, research has shown that children reach similar developmental milestones at around the same age.

The Role of Behaviourism in Language Acquisition

The process of acquiring language is a complex and fascinating one that has been studied by linguists and psychologists for decades. While there are many theories about how children learn language, behaviourism offers some explanations for this phenomenon.

The Language Acquisition Device

Linguist Noam Chomsky proposed the 'language acquisition device' (LAD), a specific part of the brain responsible for encoding language. This suggests that there is more to language acquisition than just mimicry and conditioning, and that children may possess an internal mechanism that facilitates this process.

The Critical Period

It is widely believed that the critical period for language acquisition ends at around age 7. Beyond this point, it becomes increasingly difficult for a child to acquire language. This suggests that there may be something universal among all human beings that governs language development, regardless of a person's first language.

A well-known case that supports this idea is that of Genie, a young girl who was isolated from society and never given the opportunity to develop language. Despite attempts at teaching her when she was discovered at age 12, Genie never fully acquired fluency in English. This failure to acquire language during the critical period has also been observed in other cases and provides further evidence for the existence of a universal mechanism for language development.

Limitations of Behaviourist Theory

While behaviourism may offer some insights into language acquisition, it is limited in its ability to fully account for the complexities and universality of this process. One of its main limitations is its failure to explain the complexity of language itself. It is argued that simply using reinforcement is insufficient for properly teaching the grammatical rules and patterns of language. Children often learn these rules independently, resulting in over- or under-application. This is known as the 'poverty of stimulus' argument, suggesting that imitation and conditioning alone cannot explain the vast intricacies of language.

The Role of Behaviourism in Language Acquisition

In conclusion, while behaviourism offers some explanations for language acquisition, it falls short in fully explaining the complexities and universality of this process. Other theories, such as Chomsky's nativist theory, provide more comprehensive explanations for how language is acquired.

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