Skinner vs Chomsky

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B.F. Skinner and Noam Chomsky B.F. Skinner and Noam Chomsky shared greatly differing views and ideas on the acquisition of grammar in humans. Skinner, a behavioural psychologist from 1958-1974 believed that children had to be taught grammar but Chomsky; a linguist from 1955-present thought that children were born with the ability to learn any language. Skinner was unconcerned with any `underlying mental processes' that may have occurred during learning. He was concerned with the observable nature of behaviour. He felt that there was no `underlying' meaning to words and that verbal behaviour was due to the conditioning that occurs between the words and the reinforcement properties of a stimulus. This does not just apply to physical reinforcement: `that if you ask for "a glass of water", you get one', but also social reinforcement in the form of praise and encouragement i.e. `well done'. This reinforcement is an important concept, and past experiences of verbal behaviour are important in determining whether they will be used again. Skinner used the phrase `Verbal Operant Conditioning' where a verbal response that occurs in a given situation that is followed by positive reinforcement becomes more likely to occur again in the same situation. Chomsky argued that there was no way that a child could obtain language from only the `primary linguistic data. He suggested that an infant enters the world with the ability to learn any language fluently, encased in their biological make-up. One of the manifestations of this was in the form of a `generative grammar' that had the ability to `generate' and create all the words in a linguistic grammar, and he viewed that Skinner's `absolute grammar' was far too limited in its application. Chomsky defined this `generative grammar' as a `certain set of rules operating with a set amount of vocabulary to generate an infinite number of
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