Thesis: Language Learning One of the Major Debates

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Language Learning

One of the major debates in psychology today concerns the human ability to develop and utilize language skills, the feature of humanity that has long been thought to separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. On one side of the argument are the neurobiologists and other scientists and researchers who study the brain, many of whom believe that language is a skill we are innately born to; that is, they believe that human beings are hard-wired for language, and that it is something that would develop in an individual regardless of their cognitive or learning circumstances. The other side of te argument s, as might be expected, that language is a learned trait just like most other aspects pf human behavior and skill, and that the basic rules and processes which govern cognitive growth and ability are just as applicable to language as the are to anything else. The likelihood is that this argument will never be settled; the ethical and medical barriers to performing a controlled experiment concerning the development of language in pre-language infants renders this option simply unviable. A careful study of the current research and literature, however, can reveal many insights into this issue. The conclusion most soundly verified by current research is that while humans do have an innate predisposition to the learning, adaptation, and use of language, this is not sufficient for the actual adoption of language by an individual, and learning behaviors must also be present for the innate language potential to be met.

Some very powerful, if convoluted, arguments for the cognitive basis of language can be made by examining other mental phenomena that seem isolated to human beings. For instance, Michael Corballis (2009) reviewed an overwhelming amount of literature regarding the human capacity for episodic memory -- the ability to remember past events and mentally imagine and project future events and outcomes -- and one of his conclusions was that this had and has a large impact on the development of language (Corballis 2009). Corballis goes on to suggest that episodic memory, which he entertainingly dubs "mental time travel," must have evolved in tandem with language abilities, and that both most likely appeared and grew as the human brain grew larger (Corballis 2009). This suggests both the innate wiring for language and the cognitive need for learning it -- the human brain has the capacity for episodic memory and language, but Corballis never suggests that these things sprang fully-formed from the human brain, but rather that they developed slowly as the capacity fro thought and the need for expression coincided. It is this latter need that drives the cognitive processes, not simply the larger brain.

Morten Christiansen and Nick Chater (2008) would agree strongly with this sentiment. Their examination of what is known as the Universal Grammar or UG led them to the conclusion that "biologically determined UG is not evolutionarily viable. Instead, the original motivation for UG - the mesh between learners and languages - arises because language has been shaped to fit the human brain, rather than vice versa" (Christiansen & Chater 2008). This view is even more strongly expressed in their… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Language Learning One of the Major Debates.  (2009, January 19).  Retrieved September 20, 2019, from

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"Language Learning One of the Major Debates."  19 January 2009.  Web.  20 September 2019. <>.

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"Language Learning One of the Major Debates."  January 19, 2009.  Accessed September 20, 2019.