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In this chapter we will discuss what different arguments must be considered if we want to evaluate the role of nature and nurture in language acquisition. This can be seen as the emergence of language in every single individual. Above that, the question will be approached where language comes from historically.
If we regard the fundamental debate of why and how one starts to learn a language, the two terms nature and nurture must be considered. Nature refers to the inborn genetic and biological abilities affecting our development. Nurture originates from a term referring to care and influence of the mother on the child. Scientifically, it can be seen as the environmental influence on personal development, either pre- or postnatal. Obviously, both notions are of importance. Children do not learn a language unless they are exposed to one and they do not learn it whether there is an inherent basis they can build upon or not (Clark 1977:297f.). The question is how these two notions interact and to what extend.
Nativists suspect humans to posses a Universal Grammar (UG), which is a system that explains conclusively the way all languages are organized. According to this theory all humans have an inborn grammar which is adjusted by the specific language the child is exposed to. It proposes a number of rules that explain how children come up with a certain language ([INT 1]).
Different arguments support the Nativist position (Yang 2006):
At a very young age children show high competency in their native grammars Children make mistakes only in a certain way Infants are born able to distinguish between phonemes in minimal pairs Children do not adapt quickly to adult corrections
The non-nativist approach gives favour to the so-called concept of social-interactionism. Harley emphasises the ideas of the social interactionists approach (Harley 2001:78). According to Harley, the social interactionists stress the importance of the interrelation between the child and his parents. Only by turn taking, which implies the constant feedback (positive and negative), the child is able to learn the complexity of language underlying principles. Among them are the meaning of words, the correct interpretation of intonation and semantic roles. With the attention the child receives he is able to learn the parents language. This aim is achieved in referring to the environment and the childs reaction. The feedback plays the major role in encouraging the childs exponential language development: In the early stages of development, parents tend to give a positive feedback primarily to little reactions of the child. It might be a change in facial expression or a hand movement. Later on, parents will usually only be satisfied by an utterance of a sound and even later by an utterance of a word and will most often not react on hand movement at all. This kind of feedback and the childs inborn will for appreciation trigger the childs ability to speak. Therefore, it is not enough to expose the child to language alone.