Year 13: Going beyond Chomsky and Skinner in Language Acquisition — Notes and question adapted from Myszor

9 June 2009

Many researchers followed up on what Chomsky speculated upon: children’s knowledge of grammatical rules. However, the idea of impoverishment (parents’ language is insufficient) prompted others to look in more detail at language experience, with an emphasis on social circumstances and the language of adults.

Two key factors are important:

1. Social or experiential factors
2. Cognitive factors.

Cognitive: language is controlled by the development of thinking. Eg a baby using concepts such as ‘more than’ ‘less than’ ‘nice’ ‘nasty’ ‘bad’ ‘good’

Cognitive theorists believe that language is linked to the development of the whole child.


Bruner puts language firmly into the social context, emphasizing that language is about getting things done. ‘Children learn to use a language initially….to get what they want, to play games, to stay connected with those on whom they are dependent.’


This essentially refers to the support for language learning provided by parents: who do more than provide models for imitation.

LASS and shared reading

The baby learns naming as part of a social activity with its own social rules.

Bruner found a 4 phrase structure that provides the model for the LASS

1. Gaining attention – drawing the baby’s attention to a picture
2. Query – asking the baby what the object is
3. Label – telling the baby what the object is
4. Feedback – responding to the baby’s utterance

Mock exam question based on the above information

Read the following extract, and using your knowledge of Skinner, Chomsky, Piaget and Bruner, analyse the interaction between child and mother discussing The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. M is mother, K is Katherine, 2 year old.

M: So what’s this book about?
K: Snowman
M: Mmm. What’s the snowman doing?
K: ‘S flying.
M: Mmm. Who’s he flying with?
K: James.
M: James. Yes.
K: Making he body.
M: He’s making his body, yes. And what’s he putting on there? (1) On the top of the body he’s the…?
K: indecipherable.
M: The what?
K: Head.
M: The head, yes.
K: Hair, hair.
M: He hasn’t got any hair, has he. Poor snowman hasn’t got any hair but he;s got a hat, hasn’t he.
K: He’s got there hat. Dat one’s sleeping.
M: Mmhuh.
K: indecipherable.
M: What’s James made his nose out of?
K: Uh, orange nose.
M: Orange. Yes, it’s an orange nose.
K: Yeh.
M: Let’s have a look. What’s he doing? Ho, ho, ho, ho! He’s coming into the house. And what’s he doing there? He’s trying all different noses. What’s he trying there?
K: Pinenose.
M: Pineapple nose, yes.
K: He’s got no nose.
M: Yes, he’s got a pineapple nose and there he’s got no nose.
K: He’s got it. (indecipherable) on back again. He’s got it on back again.
M: He’s got it on back again, yes, yes. He’s got his orange back on again. Mmm.


  1. I’m currently studying for my A2 English Language Exam and found this very helpful.

    Is there a mark scheme available for the question or a guide as to how to answer this question?


    from George
  2. I used the below marking key for my students:

    Marking key:
    5 marks for explaining and applying each theory (20 marks total)
    5 marks for essay structure
    5 marks for psychological evidence

    from Emerson

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