Comparing Language Development Theories

Nineteen fifty-seven was a watershed year in linguistics. Both B. F. Skinner’s Verbal Behavior and Noam Chomsky’s Syntactic Structures were published that year. These books, written by the respective pioneers of the behaviorist and linguistic approaches, placed the source of language development at opposing ends of the spectrum and have provided decades of academic debate. Since then, the number of language development theories has grown exponentially, all with different ways of explaining language development. Some approaches have confronted serious criticism and undergone revision throughout the decades, and other approaches (e.g., the usage-based approach) are newer and the body of research on them is still limited.

Beginning this week and continuing in Week 3, you complete a comparison of two theories of language development. Your goal will be to evaluate which theory you agree with more, that is, which one, based on the evidence presented in your text and resources you locate on your own, provides the most compelling argument for how language development occurs.

To Prepare:

  • Review the assigned chapter in your course text related to a behaviorist, biological, and nature-versus-nurture theories.

The Assignment (2–3 pages):
Write a 2- to 3-page paper in which you do the following:

  • Briefly identify the two theories you selected.
  • Compare and contrast the two theories and their views on first language development.
  • Explain which theory you agree with more and why. Provide evidence from the literature to support your argument.
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