Essay on Constructivist Approach to First Language Acquisition

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Word Count

4000 words




6 Days

Assignment Criteria

Language is not an instinct. Evaluate the evidence in support of this statement using a constructivist approach to first language acquisition, focusing on one or more of the following areas:

i. Language development
ii. Language acquisition under exceptional circumstances
iii. Language in the world

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Assignment Solution

Language is not an instinct; the philosophy of language has gone through a radical movement when the constructivist approach set by Jean Piaget took it to a new way where language is learnt by behavioral, symbolic and operational schemata (Piaget,1953 ). According to him, behavioral schemata are the organized patterns of behavior which is used to represent objects and experiences; symbolic schemata are the internal mental symbols that are used to represent experiences; and operational schemata are the internal mental activity that works in one's mind on the objects of thought. Piaget's theory of constructivism is widely discussed and adopted in the field of language learning and language teaching. His concepts of 'assimilation' and 'accommodation' to create a mental framework in the mind of a child have been elaborated and tested by language teachers on the first, second and foreign language learners.

The innateness of language and its rampant followers made the constructivist approach dim during the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Although there were a few researchers who believed in the theory and showed their experiments in support, constructivist approach was hardly accepted until Jean Piaget revived and established in the 20th century. Asher (1969) evolved a method known as the Total Physical Response where he considered body as a tool supporting the learner's mind to habilitate the new words and sentences for a long time; however, his work didn't get accepted and laboratory works started only in 1980s (Zimmer, 2001). Constructions are in general form and meaning pairings (Goldberg, 2003). Constructivist approach emerged very recently that allows observations to be stated directly. In contrast to the mainstream 'generative' approach to language beginning with Chomsky (1957), constructivist approach focuses on the physical representation of a word that has nothing to do with the innate. Even though it shares some basic ideas with the generative approach: language is a cognitive system; combining structures to create novel utterances is important; and a non-trivial theory is needed to learn a language, its tenets contrast sharply with the Chomskian approach (Chomsky 1981 ).

Divergence from the Generative Approach:

The Generative approach suggests that the nature of language can be seen by studying formal structures that are independent of their semantic functions.Itargues furtherthatthecomplexityofthelanguagecan only be learned when learners are hard-wired with principles that are specific to language, and thus 'universal grammar' comes into role as an innate mechanism in human minds. Consequently second or foreign languages can only be learnt by the exposure and they should be no methods or techniques to learn them. Goldberg (2003p. 229) has provided the 7 tenets of constructionist approaches representing a major divergence from the generative approach. It returns to a more traditional view of language starting with Aristotle.
Tenet 1. Each level of description in a language including morphemes or words can involve pairings of form with semantic or discourse function.

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