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What Roles do Nature and Nurture Play in Childrens Language Development?

Answer :


Language development of the child is one of the most important achievements of the early years of life as language is the most noteworthy tool that mankind possess unlike the other living species. However, how human acquire the capability of producing language, has been a long due controversy among the linguists. A group of linguists believe that the ability of language is an outcome of the innate knowledge of the human child, whereas, the behaviorist theory proposes that in the early years the surroundings of the child is the most significant factor in the acquisition of the first language (Hoff, 2013 p. 101). The more the child is exposed to a language, the more he or she has the opportunity of a proper development of language. Therefore one group of linguists believe in the ‘nature’ factor being the most significant one in the language acquisition, but according to the other group believes language to be result of environmental factors or ‘nurture’. This essay will trigger the debate of how the nature and nurture both play significant roles in the early language development of a child.


There are several approaches that concerns with the concept of nature and nurture playing a vital role to play in the early language development of a child. According to Chomsky’s language acquisition theory, the universal grammar plays the most important role. Universal grammar is basically an underlying principle of various languages. Chomsky also stated that there is a language acquisition device in every child when they are born. It allows the children to pick up the basic principles of grammar of any language they are exposed to in the early childhood. The linguists have frequently called the language acquisition device as a biological autonomous system or the nature in the brain which has been genetically defined (Hoff, 2013 p. 120). This approach triggering the nature versus nurture debate in the language acquisition is called ‘nativism’ or ‘innativism’. This theory genuinely believes that the first language acquisition is the outcome of the innate knowledge of language, which is there in the child since birth. It also claims that the underlying principle of the language is already rooted in the human brain. This enables the child to acquire the first language in the early childhood (Coll, Bearer & Lerner, 2014 p. 17). Therefore it has been claimed that the innate ability of the child has a genetic basis so that the child has the capability of producing any exposed language. Moreover, all the languages in the world tend to have some common characteristics such as syntactical or phonological similarity and a grammatical way of governing all the words. Chomsky hypothesized that each child is born with a LAD or the language acquisition device which allows them to pick up the underlying grammatical principle of the concerned language. Even this group of linguists claim that the ‘universal grammar’ would be too complicated to pick up for a child only from the environmental stimuli, therefore it has also been claimed that the human brain has developed this ability and the structure of brain as the outcome of the Darwinian evolution (Tabery, 2014 p. 58).


However, not all linguists believe the language ability to become the most significant factor in the first language acquisition. Another approach is also common among the linguists that adhere to the idea of B.F. Skinner or the behaviorist school of linguists which believe that in the early childhood, children learn language by taking linguistic information from their surroundings. According to Skinner, there should not be any limit of what could be the final result out of a human being. This theory is also known as ‘empiricism’. This approach believes that acquisition of the first language is mostly about the formation of habits and the result of nurturing. They say that human children draw enough linguistic information from their environment and claim that the acquisition of language is an associative procedure (Hoff, 2013 p. 52). This school of linguists views the language development as a cognitive development which gets enhanced by the environment of the child and also gets hampered by the environment. They place huge emphasis on the early experience and usage of the language in the environment in the first language acquisition. Linguists argue that adults play the most crucial role in the language development in an infant while they converse with the child and the child also try to follow the distinguished pattern and start experimenting with the language slowly like uttering single syllables and then gradually stringing them into one word and create expressions (Ambridge et al., 2015 p. 260). However, it might seem that this theory suggests something like language being taught in the classrooms but most of the linguists put huge importance on the adult participation with the child in the early years.

However it is also necessary to acknowledge that the factor ‘nature’ is inseparable from ‘nurture’ as both are the primary resources for the growth and potential in the human being (Tabery, 2014 p. 60). It would be easier to conclude that even if the child is born with a previous blueprint of language acquisition, the social and cognitive interaction in the early childhood helps the child in building a positive foundation of language development.


The controversy of nature versus nurture in the processing of language has been an ongoing debate since a long time that results from several theoretical aspects and findings in the genre of psycholinguistics, neuroscience and other education fields. However, there has not been any clear winner of this debate as both the factors seem to have a significant role to play in the language acquisition. One cannot ignore the fact that human behavior is an alliance of both the environmental and genetic aspects. Therefore it may work for the language developments as well. Many say that both the nature and nurture or the genetic and the environmental factors define the language development process in children. Not solely the nature or the nurture, but both the factors are important in acquiring language in early childhood. It can also be interpreted that both the theories are not contradictory rather complementing each other that strengthen the understanding of the complex interaction between the environmental stimuli and the biological factor in the language development of a child.


Reference List

Hoff, E. (2013). Language development. Cengage Learning.

Ambridge, B., Kidd, E., Rowland, C. F., & Theakston, A. L. (2015). The ubiquity of frequency effects in first language acquisition. Journal of child language42(02), 239-273.

Coll, C. G., Bearer, E. L., & Lerner, R. M. (Eds.). (2014). Nature and nurture: The complex interplay of genetic and environmental influences on human behavior and development. Psychology Press.

Tabery, J. (2014). Beyond versus: The struggle to understand the interaction of nature and nurture. MIT Press.

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