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Nativist Theories of Second Language Acquisition

Nativist Theories of Second Language Acquisition: Noam Chomsky

According to Larsen-Freeman and Long (1991), nativist theories posit the existence of a specific, innate biological capacity or organ that makes learning possible. Some of those nativist theories are specific to language acquisition, with Noam Chomsky perhaps the earliest and foremost exponent of the theory that language acquisition follows a universal pattern based on an innate language organ, or system of hard-wiring within the brain.

Chomsky became most visible in his struggles with the researchers who were working with chimpanzees and gorillas to help them develop language. According to Chomsky, this was impossible, and would always be impossible, because only human beings had the capacity for language. It was, according to Chomsky, an innate and distinctive language function that made it possible for human beings to learn language. He concluded that other animals did not have this function within their brains, and therefore could not acquire language, although they could learn to communicate. Language was essentially defined as an exclusively human characteristic; anything any other species did was automatically not language.

In his earliest theorizing about language and language acquisition, Chomsky (1965, 1968) asserted that there was a language function in the brain that made it possible for children to learn language. This language organ was structured, or hard-wired, in such a way as to provide a template for language learning that included a universal grammar. Essentially, it was an internal language acquire and processor, what Chomsky termed his "Language Acquisition Device (LAD)".

In addition, Chomsky discussed what he termed the Universal Grammar (UG), which was a built-in set of programs that allowed the child to know the rules of syntax before he or she was taught them. According to Chomsky (1965),


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