Common Theories of Linguistics

One aspect of linguistic theories focuses on how children acquire language. In general, the theories of language acquisition are divided into nature vs nurture perspectives. Some propose that language acquisition is natural while others believe that the context that a child is in influences heavily their acquisition of a language.

In this post, we will look at one theory that supports the argument for nature and one theory that supports the argument for nurture in relation to language acquisitions. The nature argument is supported by the generative approach while the nurture argument is supported by the constructionist approach.

Generative Approach

The generative approach states that children are able to acquire language because they are born with the principles related to the structures of human language. In other words, children are born with the ability to obtain and use language. According to people who support this view, there is a place in the brain called the language acquisition device (LAD) and children use the rules within the LAD to develop language.

One major criticism of the generative approach is that the original theories related to this concept were based on results from adults and not children. Another problem was that there is little evidence of one set of language rules that can be applied to all languages.

Constructionist Approach

The constructionist approach states that children learn the linguistic rules of a language through the environmental input they experience. To put it simply, children are not born with innate rules of language as the generative approach states, rather, they learn these rules through interacting with their world.

As children are exposed to language, they find the patterns in the communication they experience. For example, parents speak to their children. From this experience, the children learn how to communicate.  The children use what they hear until it becomes natural for them. There are now innate abstracts, instead, the child acquires the rules through trial and error.

The focus of the constructionist approach is on the use of language. There is no desire to develop universal grammatical rules but to examine how the context impacts how language is acquired.


The purpose is not to claim that one theory is superior to the other. In reality, both theories are trying to explain the phenomena of language acquisition from different perspectives. Generative are seeing language acquisition from a deductive perspective in that the child starts with the rules and applies them to a specific context. Constructionist are seeing language acquisition from an inductive viewpoint as they believe the child starts with specific examples to acquire rules that are appropriate in the local language context. As such, there is room in the discussion of language acquisition for both arguments and many more.

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