The basic structure of language, the Nature Nurture debate, and the Innateness Hypothesis
Imagine teaching English to someone for the first time. What are some areas that go with studying the basic concepts of it? This refers to hearing, seeing, reading, and speaking the tongue. For example, when a person is learning a new foreign language he or she needs to study how to speak it before talking to someone from another country. Some of the areas worth paying attention to are mental grammar, phonology, morphology, nature/nurture issue, and the innateness hypothesis.
Each one of us is built with a mental grammar in our brains. Children at a young age are known to pick up his or her language by the age of five. They are able to do this with or without specific instruction from the parents, or anyone they are in contact with on a daily basis. Here is the basic process that youngsters go through while developing language. First, one word is used, such as “Dad,” or “Mom.” Second, each of them adds more vocabulary by making simple sentences. For example, “Cathy loves me.” Third, a combination of words is used to make a complete sentence. This is shown by leaving out specific nouns or verbs, such as, “Mary paint house,” instead of saying, “Mary is painting the house” (Fromkin, 2003).
A common theory that goes with children and language learning is from Chompsky. “These factors lead many linguists to believe that children are equipped with a unique template or blueprint for languge-Universal Grammar- and this blueprint aids the child in the task of constructing a grammar for her language. This is referred to as the innateness hypothesis” (Fromkin, 2003). They learn it from birth to age five upon becoming fluent in their dialect, which is where Chomsky believed that each of them had a “blank slate” (Fromkin, 2003).
Here are some more ways of describing this particular conjecture. A grammar an individual comes up with during their lifetime eventually becomes apart of their own experience. We end up knowing more about the language other than what is heard around us on a regular basis. This is known as the “poverty of the stimulus” (Fromkin, 2003).
Despite the fact that children hear all sorts of sounds and utterances. “The language they hear is incomplete, noisy, and unstructured” (Fromkin, 2003). Children eventually realize that different aspects of grammar occur by means of not receiving any information. This makes it imporverished because it is less than what they actually attain in regards to grammar (Fromkin, 2003).
Children are not told about structure dependency. They are not told about constituent structure. The input they get is a sequence of sounds, not a set of phrase structure trees. No amount of imitation, reinforcement, analogy, or structured input will lead the child to formulate a prhase structure tree or a principle of structure dependency. Yet, children do create phrase structures, and the rules they acquire are sensitive to this structure (Fromkin, 2003).
This particular innateness hypothesis gives an answer to “the logical problem of language acquisition posed by Chomsky” (Fromkin, 2003). Children are able to acquire complex grammar more easily without any kind of help despite constant exposure to it on a regular basis. With the help of Universal Grammar, this improves the child’s langauge by means of getting the rules out of it, and to avoid grammatical errors. All of the kids go through developmental stages due to that “innate blueprint” that is within each of them without fully realizing that a new language was learned from many years of practice (Fromkin, 2003).
Phonology is about the sounds one hears in any given language. This is used in two ways: “mental representation of linguistic knowledge, and as the description of this knowledge” (Fromkin, 2003). Another term that is important is Phonological knowledge, which means to produce sounds that are meaningful, recognizing an accent that is foreign, making up various words, add proper phonemic segments to produce plurals as well as past tense, to produce sounds that are aspirated and “unaspirated voiceless stops, to recognize different sounds, and to grasp the different strings of phonemes” (Fromkin, 2003).
A speaker’s phonological knowledge includes information about what sound can occur at the beginning of a word, what sounds can occur at the end of a word, and what sounds can appear next to each other within a syllable. For example, native English speakers know that the final sound of the word ring, which we represent as [?], cannot occur at the beginning of a word. To see this, say th words ring out (rin?awt] to rhyme with bout, but you are likely to find this weird or difficult unless you happen to speak a language that permits [?] to begin a word. In English [?awt] is not a possible word (Fromkin, 2003).
Morphology consists of the rules in regards to word formation. “A particular string of sounds must be united with meaning, and a meaning must be united with specific sounds in order for the sounds or the meaning to be a word in your meaningful dictionaries. Once you learn both the sounds and their related meaning, you know the word” (Fromkin, 2003). This word enters a person’s lexicon, and becomes a part of their “linguistic knowledge” (Fromkin, 2003).
Each of these particular words that an individual learns are a part his or her lexicon. For example, he or she will decipher between a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, or conjunction. These are known as a syntactical class. Someone may not know these consciously, but show up in phrases that show up in “I love you,” or “I love you with all of my heart” (Fromkin, 2003).
Content and function words are present in any morphological context. For example, “Nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs are the content words. These words denote concepts such as objects, actions, attributes, and ideas that we can think about like children, anarchism, soar, and purple” (Fromkin, 2003). However, function words consist of pronouns, such as he or she, and conjunctions, which are and as well as or; this also includes prepositions in and of, but the list can go on for awhile too (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009).
The Nature and Nurture issue is about environment versus heredity. Galton was the first to start it up. Many researchers have found much evidence in regards to both sides of the controversy (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). “The ‘nature’ side of the debate argues for a hereditarian view of the phenomenon of intelligence: that a person maintains his mental ability solely based on what he is born with genetically. Defending this side of the debate exclusively would be establishing that a person’s environment plays no role in determining his mental aptitude. Conversely, the nurture camp argues that a person’s environment plays a large role in his mental aptitude “(Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009).
Galton was the first researcher who concluded that those who were gifted came from gifted families as well. He later decided to analyze various primary sources, such as dictionaries and encyclopedia. Soon he became convinced that talent in various fields started with the family (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). “Galton, influenced by his research and findings, took this observation one step further and argued that it would be “quite practicable to produce a high gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations” (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). Eugenics is what it is called today (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009).
After the First World War, much analysis of intelligence tests presided during this time. This research challenged the view “that intelligence was genetically linked to racial differences” (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). However, the evidence supported a link between “social class and intelligence,” rather than an individual’s race and knowledge (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). As a result, a shift occurred in regards to the nurture side of the issue as well because psychologists switched sides (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). In the 1960’s, the focus shifted away from the individual, but soon became a social issue. The dominant was obviously nurture, and “efforts were made to stop poor educational achievement through special schooling, and to diminish poor living conditions through welfare, because it was thought that intelligence and mental abilities were almost solely determined by the learning individuals acquire from their environment” (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). Currently, many articles speak of the Intelligence Quotient (IQ). For example, a major publication was set forth by “Herrnstein and Murray’s ‘The Bell Curve,’ which was released in 1994 (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). This gave a lot of momentum in regards to the nature side of the scenario, but also created more debate amongst various disciplines, such as psychology and sociology (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009). The main thesis was about the fact that intelligence is “no less than 40% and no more than 80% of which is inherited genetically from his or her parents – has more effect than socioeconomic background on future life experiences” (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009).
A second way of looking at it is that IQ is closely related to high success in various areas. For example, a person would do well in a high paying job and do exceptionally well in education. These successes are believed as genetic Herrnstein and Murray supported this view in regards to heredity for intelligence, but also influenced experts to change opinions toward the nature side as well (Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience, 2009).
Language is quite complex. A person learns it from the time they are a baby and become fluent in it by five years of age without fully realizing it consciously. He or she learns phonemes and morphemes too. Phonemes are sounds and morphemes are the rules of grammar. They help an individual to understand more about their tongue, and ways to teach others who are not from that particular place in the world.
Two theories are important to know as well. They are the Innateness Hypothesis and the Nature versus Nurture issue. The Innateness Hypothesis came from Chomsky. He believed that everyone was born with a blank slate in regards to language learning. A person goes through various stages in that process: babbling, one word, simple sentences, and then complex sentences. However, nature is about how environment, and speaks of intelligence. Nurture is in regards to genetics and astuteness. These are both influential by means of how aptitude is acquired. Today, much debate takes place, and some have not come to an agreement on this debate. Many people have written on it, but not much conclusion in the matter. The history has shown that it is a combination of the two that makes a person smart, but now relativity is important in determining which side to lean on in this matter. Language is a part of our everyday lives, and it something that cannot become taken for granted by any individual or group.
Fromkin, V. R. (2003). An Introduction To Language. Boston: Heinle.
Macalester College: Behavioral Neuroscience. (2009). Retrieved February 25, 2009, from Historical Trends in the Nature vs. Nurture Debate: http://www.macalester.edu/psychology/whathap/UBNRP/intelligence05/Rhistory.html