Theoretical Perspectives

Considering how we think about language

Quick note:

Make sure you've done the readings and that you are familiar with some of the elementary concepts presented in chapters 1 and 2. Our discussions this semester necessarily depend on a unified understanding of some of these concepts (encode, decode, receptive, expressive, etc)


The fundamental question that will frame much of our conversation (and learning) this semester is how language develops. It's helpful to have an historical understanding of the theories that have been presented to explain language development and acquisition. What follows here is by no means comprehensive--but it's a necessary broad and critical overview of language acquisition theories.

How to Proceed

After you've watched the 13 minute module above, scroll down below for a few different clips and activities.

Countering Behaviorism

Behavioral conditioning, which is modeled quite well in this example from the Big Bang Theory, has been largely refuted by linguists. How does this cartoon provide an argument against the behaviorist notion that language is conditioned? Hop over to this padlet to provide your thoughts (~ a paragraph). Specifically: what does it demonstrate?
Chomsky -- Universal Grammar

How Does Vygotsky Factor In?

Lev Vygotsky's work very much influenced modern day thinking about the roles of interaction in language learning (and learning in general). Here, read about Vygotsky (and how he differs from Piaget).

Explaining a "new" language

Consider the different theoretical perspectives on language acquisition. Which best fits in making sense of this story from Nicaragua? Be prepared to kick off next week with a justified answer. (Hint: helpful if you write down your thoughts on a notecard or something).
The Birth of New Sign Language in Nicaragua