L1 Acquisition Theories – Summary

Behaviorist (B.F. Skinner)

  • Common view in 1940s and 1950s
  • Children learn L1 through imitation and positive reinforcement of the desired behavior.

Nativist (Noam Chomsky)

  • Challenged Skinneru2019s views in 1959 by demonstrating that children are able to produce language and unique utterances well beyond what they hear and imitate
  • Hypothesized that children have an innate ability to learn language
    Language acquisition device (LAD) and Universal Grammar enables children to figure out the underlying rules of their language on their own.
  • Chomskyu2019s theories were revolutionary and his work remains influential
    Most linguistics agree children have genetic predisposition for language


  • Language acquisition is biological AND social.
  • Combines ideas from sociology and biology to explain how language is developed.
  • Language emerges from, and is dependent upon, social interaction.
  • The interactionist approach claims that if our language ability develops out of a desire to communicate, then language is dependent upon whom we want to communicate with.