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"The philosophy of innatism is sometimes divided into two areas: Knowledge innatism - this doctrine asserts that humans have access to knowledge that is possessed innately. Idea innatism - also known as concept innatism, this doctrine asserts that humans have access to certain inborn ideas. Knowledge innatism seems to entail idea innatism. Idea innatism does not necessarily entail knowledge innatism."

How does idea innatism not enail knowledge innatism? One must have knowledge of one's innate ideas -- that is presumably what the article mean by "access," which is short for "epistemic access," and epistemic access has to do with knowledge. Thus, idea innatism does entail knowledge innatism. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:23, 25 September 2007 (UTC)


Shortly after Skinner wrote his book, a young linguist named Noam Chomsky (1959) wrote a strong critique of the Behaviorist theory for language learning. Chomsky’s main argument against Behaviorism was this:


• • Fish feet

• • My brother only eats the blue monkeys.

Chomsky also argued that the language children are exposed to is “deficient” for language learning. Chomsky claimed that the language children hear is full of “performance errors” such as grammatical mistakes, false starts, slips of the tongue, etc.


Therefore, Chomsky argued, children must be born with some special built-in ability to learn language. He called this special built-in ability, the Language Acquisition Device (LAD). This device supposedly contained the main rules for all possible human languages. Chomsky called this set of common rules Universal Grammar (UG). All the child needed was a small sample from some specific language (e.g. English or Japanese) to be able to add a few language-specific rules.

For example, English is said to be a “head first” language because it builds structures like:

The man -> who is wearing -> a hat

Japanese, on the other hand, is called a “head last” language because it builds structures like:

Booshi o <- kabutte iru <- hito

According to Chomsky, all the child needed to learn is whether the language was a head first or head last language. This would “set a parameter” (similar to “flipping a switch”) in the LAD. The child only needed to set a small number of parameters to “learn” the structure of the language. For Chomsky, then, (first) LANGUAGE LEARNING EQUALS PARAMETER SETTING.


Even if we accept that Chomsky is right about the LAD and Universal Grammar in first language acquisition (and many researchers do not), there are still some big questions regarding how his ideas fit into second language learning. Four possible hypotheses have been proposed:

1) No access hypothesis. UG is only used in first language acquisition. L2 learners have to use other ways of learning.

UG General learning mechanisms

L1 L2

2) Full access hypothesis. UG can be used first first AND second language learning. In essence, it is possible to learn an L2 the same way we learn an L1.


L1 L2

3) Indirect access hypothesis. UG is not directly involved in L2 learning. But the learner can use what he or she knows of UG in their L1 to aid them in learning an L2.




4) Partial access hypothesis. Some aspects of UG are usable but others are not. The learner can use UG for some things but not for others.

UG Principles -- Parameters



Teachers who accept the no access hypothesis might feel that it is impossible for learners to acquire a second language naturally. On the other hand, teachers who believe the full access hypothesis might feel that learners can acquire language naturally if exposed to lots of communicative activities.


One extremely influential theory of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) which relies (in the end) on innate language ability is Stephen Krashen’s so-called “Monitor Theory” (MT). Actually, this theory consists of five hypotheses:

1. 1. Acquisition-Learning hypothesis 2. 2. Monitor hypothesis 3. 3. Natural Order hypothesis 4. 4. Input hypothesis ß (This is the most well-know) 5. 5. Affective filter hypothesis

Krashen claimed that “acquisition” is different from “learning” (Acquisition-Learning hypothesis). For example, children “acquire” their L1 naturally from the world around them. Krashen contrasted this with the “formal learning” that usually takes place in language classrooms. Krashen claimed that “acquisition” was more important for L2 learners and that knowledge that came from formal learning (e.g. an explicitly learned grammar rule) could only act as a “monitor” during slow, careful production (Monitor hypothesis).

Think of the “Monitor” as a kind of “language policeman.” The L2 learner could, in some circumstances, use his or her Monitor to check the language he or she was producing. For example, a learner could use a consciously learned grammar rule about adding +s to third person present tense verbs (e.g. “He swims”) to find mistakes in his or her English.

The Natural Order hypothesis states that the pieces of the L2 grammatical system are learned in a specific “natural order.” Krashen claimed that this natural order was not affected by the order in which items are taught in a classroom or even by the L1 of the learner. That is, all learners pass through the same natural order of acquisition.

The most important of Krashen’s five hypothesis is the Input hypothesis. This states that for acquisition to take place learners must be presented with “comprehensible input” (i.e. language that they can understand) just slightly beyond their current level:

i + 1

The final hypothesis in Krashen’s theory, the affective filter hypothesis, deals with motivation. Krashen believed that poor motivation would work like a filter that would block comprehensible input. A “high affective filter” would block out language input and make learning impossible. A “low affective filter” would allow input to come in and be processed by an “internal language processor” similar to Chomsky’s LAD.

Krashen’s hypotheses became extremely popular, particularly his Input hypothesis, and formed the theoretical basis for the so-called “Communicative Approach” to second language learning. In many ways this was not new. In 1972, Ivan Illich wrote:

“Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful settings”

We will return to Krashen’s ideas when we discuss language teaching methodologies next week. Now let’s look at some non-nativist approaches to SLA theory.

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