MCAT Content / Language / Theories Of Language Development

Theories of Language Development

Topic: Language

Humans, especially children, have an amazing capability to learn a language, and several theories exist to explain language development.

Theories of Language Development

Humans, especially children, have an amazing ability to learn a language. Within the first year of life, children will have learned many of the necessary concepts to have functional language, although it will still take years for their capabilities to develop fully. Some people learn two or more languages fluently over their lives (often starting from childhood); these people are bilingual or multilingual. Multiple theories have been proposed to explain the development of language, and related brain structures, in children.

Chomsky: Nativisim and Language Acquisition Device

This theory posits that infants teach themselves and that language learning is genetically programmed. The view is known as nativism and was advocated by Noam Chomsky, who suggested that infants are equipped with a neurological construct referred to as the language acquisition device (LAD), which makes infants ready for language. The LAD allows children, as their brains develop, to derive the rules of grammar quickly and effectively from the speech they hear every day. Therefore, language develops as long as the infant is exposed to it. No teaching, training, or reinforcement is required for language to develop. Instead, language learning comes from a particular gene, brain maturation, and the overall human impulse to imitate.

Piaget: Assimilation and Accommodation

Jean Piaget’s theory of language development suggests that children use both assimilation and accommodation to learn a language. Assimilation is the process of changing one’s environment to place information into an already-existing schema (or idea). Accommodation is the process of changing one’s schema to adapt to the new environment. Piaget believed children need to first develop mentally before language acquisition can occur. According to him, children first create mental structures within the mind (schemas) and from these schemas, language development happens.

Interactionist theory

Interactionist theory has its basis in social interaction theory and posits that language is acquired and perfects through interactions with more experienced linguistic figures. For example, a child speaking to an adult, through this process they learn to improve their development


Key Points

• Noam Chomsky’s nativist theory states that children have the innate biological ability to learn a language; however, his theory has not been supported by genetic or neurological studies.

• Jean Piaget’s theory of language development suggests that children use both assimilation and accommodation to learn a language.

• Interactionist theory has its basis in social interaction theory and posits that language is acquired and perfects through interactions with more experienced linguistic figures.


Key Terms

assimilation: the absorption of new ideas into an existing cognitive structure

accommodation: the act of fitting or adapting, or the state of being fitted or adapted; adaptation; adjustment

social Interaction: a social exchange between two or more individuals

nativism: a biologically based theory, which argues that humans are pre-programmed with the innate ability to develop language

language acquisition device: an instinctive mental capacity which enables an infant to acquire and produce language



Billing Information
We had trouble validating your card. It's possible your card provider is preventing us from charging the card. Please contact your card provider or customer support.
{{ cardForm.errors.get('number') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('zip') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('coupon') }}
Tax: {{ taxAmount(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }}

Total Price Including Tax: {{ priceWithTax(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }} / {{ selectedPlan.interval | capitalize }}