Role of Nature and Nurture in Language Development

Topics: Linguistics, Language acquisition, Brain Pages: 8 (3195 words) Published: August 11, 2013
How do both nature and nurture interact in the promotion of language development in young children? The debate between many researchers is the argument of whether nature or nurture play a more important role in development. In this essay I will be looking into both aspects of nature and nurture focusing specifically on their influence towards language development in children. A main controversial question I will be looking into is the question of whether are we born already equipped with mechanisms which help us to learn language, or is language learned throughout a child’s environment by, for example, imitation and repetition? Studies done by some opposing researchers claim to show that nature and nurture promote language development by interacting together which I will explain in greater detail in my essay. The meaning of the term language is sometimes overlooked. Young children don’t suddenly acquire the ability to speak full words; instead language is composed of phonemes, “the smallest units of sound-consonants and vowels.” Phonemes, as described by Crosser (2002) in her article, can then combine to form the smallest meaningful units of language called morphemes. Therefore, it is necessary for the brain to distinguish and identify the phonemes of the child’s own language. This differentiation is accomplished by the work of neurons in the auditory cortex within the brain. When infants hear the same phoneme repeatedly, a cluster of neurons becomes wired to respond to that phoneme. Subsequently, the assigned neuron cluster automatically fires when the ear carries that particular phoneme to the brain. This process forms a brain map for the sound of the language in an infant's environment (Begley, 1996). Over time there will be millions of neuron clusters each resembling different phonemes and when the child matures these phonemes will be put together to assemble the native structure of their language. Knowing this reinforces the important role of nature in promoting a child’s language development as without the language function centre of the brain and our genetic make-up, we would not be able to develop our language capabilities. The role of parents in facilitating language development researchers have found that in all languages, parents utilize a style of speech towards their children known as infant-directed speech, or motherese. It is characterized by a higher-pitched intonation, shortened or simplified vocabulary, condensed sentences and exaggerated vocalizations or expressions. Infant-directed speech has been shown to be more effective in getting an infant's attention as well as aiding in language development (Fernald & Morikawa, 1993). Researchers believe that the use of motherese helps babies learn words faster and easier. As children continue to grow, parents naturally adapt their speaking patterns to suit their child's growing linguistic skills (Shore, 1997). This aspect of promoting a young child’s language development relies heavily on the part of nurture in the sense that positive social communication between parent and child is beneficial. Contrastingly, the interaction of ‘nature’ in terms of promoting language development is backed up by Nativist theorists. Noam Chomsky (1968,p120) expresses his view that, “all humans are born with a language acquisition device (LAD)” meaning all children are born with internal mechanisms in the brain that allow them to acquire language naturally. To Chomsky, it is the brains mechanism which promotes a child’s language ability as it allows the child to subconsciously process language structure when exposed to new words throughout their early years, thus leading to their development in language capability. Chomsky pointed to the evidence that children say words or sentences which aren’t completely grammatically correct e.g. ‘eated’. By ruling out learning theory ideas like imitation as most adults are grammatically correct, the word ‘eated’ wouldn’t be an...
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