LANGUAGE ACQUISITION (Fr. L’acquisition du langage, Gr. Der Spracherwerb oder die Sprachbildung) is the process by which a language is acquired (learned). In other words, it is a process of acquisition which implies adoption of language structures as well as their variations, resulting in ability to comprehend and produce speech. L.A. becomes a particular research problem in the work of R. Jakobson, devoted to phonetic system acquisition and aphasia phenomenon [Jakobson 1940]; it also receives reinforcement in experimental research in perception and acquisition conducted in the psychological school of L. Vygotsky [Выготский 1926] and A. Leontiev [Леонтьев 1931]. The complexity of this human ability makes it subject to different sciences and spheres of linguistics, including sociolinguistics, applied linguistics (methodology of teaching), neuroscience, psychology, cognitive linguistics.
Traditionally there is a conventional distinction between two notions: first-language acquisition (the process of acquisition of the native language by a child) and second-language acquisition (adoption of any other language apart from one’s mother tongue). These processes possess common and differentiating features in terms of the learners’ age groups, the amount and the quality of the information acquired [Brown 1973]. Besides, the first language can have a significant influence on the second language acquisition (language interference, or interlanguage), though this fact is still a disputable one [Stem 1980].
L.A. should not be confused with language learning. Following Stephen Krashen, L.A. is subconscious whereas learning is a conscious process, and considering this hypothesis as true means that the second language acquisition subsequently becomes the process of learning [Krashen 1957].
Turning to theoretical explanations of the nature and driving mechanisms of this cognitive activity we find that there are four major approaches proposed: the Behaviorist Learning Theory (B.F. Skinner), the Innateness hypothesis (N. Chomsky), the Cognitive Theory (J. Piaget, E. Lenneberg), and the Interaction (or Input) Theory (J. Bruner, S. Pinker). These theories should not be viewed as conflicting or mutually exclusive, as each theory adds to overall knowledge, placing emphasis on different aspects of the process.
Behaviorists consider L.A. as a process guided by positive and negative reinforcement of the child’s speech and imitations. Thus, the child memorizes successful reinforced utterances and forgets unsuccessful ones. [Skinner, 1957] The Innateness theory proposed by Noam Chomsky offered an approach based on presupposition of biological determination of the process, lying in the existence of inborn faculty for language acquisition. The faculty is known as the Language Acquisition Device (LAD) and its work is explained through existence of concepts and underlying principles common for all languages. Chomsky maintains that there is no specific knowledge of any particular language in a child’s mind but instead there exists a natural predisposition that is trigged at an early age by hearing speech [Chomsky N. 1998]. The Cognitive Theory developed by Jean Piaget explored language acquisition within the context of cognitive development of a child. He asserted that advance in acquisition of a particular language form depends on familiarity and understanding of the underlying concept; it received a lot of attention afterwards as part of the Interaction theory developed by G. Bruner and S. Krashen. Interactionists confirm that in communicative situations taking place between adults and children the adults use the so-called Baby talk, which is different from any other discourse type; that in its turn contributes to L.A. [Bruner 1975].
Contemporary theories of L.A. foreground the idea of interaction between biological and empirical constituents of language formation, of linguistic performance, as well as the idea of the critical age period in the development of the child’s speech activity.
M. Kiose, A. Stoljarova
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