Chomsky’s Nativist Position
Chomsky believes that human beings are born with an inherited ability to learn any language. He claims that certain linguistic structures which children use so accurately must be already imprinted in the child’s mind. Chomsky believes that every child has a LAD (language acquisition device) which encodes the major principles of a language and its grammatical structures into the child’s brain. Children have to learn new vocabulary and apply the syntactic structures from the LAD in order to form sentences. (LAD was the first name used; UG is more precise. Apart from the principles, UG contains the parameters that account for the differences among learners. Children acquiring their L1 are setting the parameters according to the input they hear.
He also points out that a child could not learn a language through imitation alone because his/her parents’ speech is sometimes ungrammatical and for other reasons too, like the poverty of the stimulus argument. Chomsky’s theory applies to all languages as they all contain forms and children appear to be hard-wired to acquire the grammar. Every language is complex, often with subtle distinctions which even native speakers are unaware of. However, all children, regardless of their intellectual ability become fluent in their native language by the time they are five years old.
There are arguments against the theory. Critics of Chomsky’s theory say that although it is clear that children don’t learn language through imitation alone, this does not prove that they must have an LAD, language learning could be through general learning and understanding abilities and interactions with other people.