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Language Acquisition: A Habit Formation or Role Formation?

Habit Formation

Habit is a pattern of behaviour that is regular and which has become almost automatic as a result of repetition. Linguists and psychologists disagree about how much habit formation is involved in language learning. The behaviourists hold that language acquisition is a product of habit formation. Habits are constructed through the repeated association between some stimulus and some response. Second language learning, then, is viewed as a process of overcoming the habits of the native language in order to acquire the new habits of the target language. This is to be accomplished through the pedagogical practices of dialogue memorization and pattern practice. Over learning and thus automatically is the goal. The contrastive analysis hypothesis is important to this view of language learning.

 
Role Formation-

Chomsky posits a theory in which he claims that everybody learns a language not because they are subject to the same conditioning process but because they possess an inborn capacity which permits then to induce the rules of the intended language as a normal maturational process. Once acquired, these rules will allow learners to create and comprehend novel utterances, utterances they neither have understood nor have produced if they are limited to imitating input from the environment. Thus the rational for Chomsky’s theory of language acquisition as a process of role formation lies in what known as “the poverty of the stimulus(input).”

To justify Chomosky’s theory of language acquisition we will take the following two errors into account committed by children acquiring English as their L1.

  1. She doesn’t wants to go.
  2. I eated it.

These wrong sentences suggest that these children have internalized rules for sub-verb agreement and past tense formation in English respectively but have not yet mastered the limitations of the rules. Thus such original errors indicate that the children are not simply repeating forms from the input they encountered.

Again in relation to SLA, SL learners are found to commit similar “developmental” errors which are not apparently due to L1 interference.

Thus the process of SLA is also thought to be one rule formation, in which rules are inculcated through a process of hypothesis formation and testing. If the learner traces any mismatch between his own language production and the forms/ functions of the target language to which he/ she is being exposed, he/ she will modify his/ her hypothesis about the nature of the TL rules so that his/ her utterances increasingly conformed to the TL.

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