1.1 Background Statement
Language forms the fundamental function of communication. As social
beings, we use it as our medium of communication to help us communicate
with people that live both within and beyond our regional/geographical
locations just as it is the case that other people from within and
outside our environment do communicate with us. Language occurs almost
wherever we come into contact with other people and will be different
according to the nature of the contact. It is noted that our lives take
us through a succession of activities requiring the use of language. The
activities are very diverse and, what ever dialect we speak, have
specific feature of language associated with them. Many activities are
connected with our jobs. One may be an engineer giving instructions to a
draughtsman; a lawyer advising a client; a trade union official
discussing fringe benefits; a bus conductor collecting transport. Fares;
A sergeant instructing a soldier; or a scientist reading a technical
report. Other activities are part of our leisure. We may be playing
tennis, football, or volley ball. Or relating to our home life, we may
be acting as a mother, a father, a husband, a wife, a son or a daughter.
To acquire language in the actual sense seems to depend on the
linguistic atmosphere in which the child is brought up. Skinner (1957)
stresses that language is not a mental phenomenon but a behavioral one.
Alllen and Burren (1971:135) hold the view that language is essentially
an adventitious construct, taught by conditioning or drill and explicit
explanation,, or by built-up elementary data processing procedures.
“language acquisition is controlled by the condition under which it
takes place and that as long as individuals are subject to the same
conditions they will learn the same way”, (Wilkins, 1972:169-4). This
might be the reason why a child raised in Hausa speaking community will
acquire Hausa language. One brought up in China acquires Chinese and
vice verse incase that happens to take place.
It is worth to note that there are linguists that do not give much
emphasis to the linguistic atmosphere that language learner/acquirer
finds himself; but rather stress much emphasis on a learners’/acquirer’s
innate language learning/acquiring capacity. According to Atchison
(1989, p.55) ‘Human are genetically imprinted with knowledge about
language”. This claim seems to have gone in line with the observation
made by Fodor (1974), Bever and Garrett (1974) who stressed that
training a dog to walk on its hind legs does not prejudice the claim the
bipedal gait is genetically coded in humans. “The fact that human
begins can learn/acquire to whistle like a lark does not prejudice the
species-specificity of birdsong” Fodor, Bever and Garrett (12974, p.
With these claims in mind therefore, it might be right to assume that
other animals’ inability to talk, acquire or learn language in its
actual sense supports the assumption that language is restricted to
human race alone.
The aim of the study is to establish the fact that language is so
important to human beings that we cannot exist without it as the medium
through which we transact all our worldly affairs I equally intend to
establish that there is a need for all of us (students of English
language to realize that there exists distinction between language
acquisition and language learning. Then I finally want to state that in
this project, I will critically examine some of the theories of language
acquisition. The views of mentalists and behaviorists are specifically
the ones that will be discussed in this write up.
1.2 The Purpose of the Study.
In this project I intend to explore and discuss, very critically,
some of the theories of language acquisition. In essence, particularly
aim to critically examine the strengths and weaknesses of behaviorists
and mentalists theories before we eventually state our stand. The
project topic has been given different titles in different periods,
suggesting angles and different foci by different people especially
scholars of linguistics and psycholinguistics.