Languages diversity

The category and method of language acquisition

The category and method by which people acquire each language varies. According to Levinson (2009), language acquisition occurs in a variety of ways, with some individuals being influenced by their immediate surroundings or by the development of mental abstractions. Language theories have developed over time to explain the method of language learning. In reality, different theorists developed various ways to explain how language acquisition happens in people. Edward Sapir and Lee Whorf were the first to propose the idea of language acquisition. They argued that speakers of various languages have varying thought processes. (Boroditsky, 2011). The assignment entails a discussion of two learning theories of Pinker and Whorf and then selecting one to support its opinion.

Summary and Analysis

Pinker (1994)

From a theoretical perspective, the views of Pinker on how language is acquired or learned are based on the ideas of Noam Chomsky. They have a basis on the innatist theory that supports the acquisition of grammar through generations. In this case, learning about language does not occur from repeating what someone else is saying or imitating the words of another individual. Pinker carefully proves the innatist theory by giving an example of how children learn a language. Pinker argues that children come up with new vocabularies every time they speak. According to Pinker (1994), language is learned by making new phrases, sentences and from the mental processes of a person. All the properties and dimensions of language are held in the mind of an individual. The brain has a lexicon of words as well as the mental dictionary or the concepts of their meaning. These words also have rules of combination to present their relationships among concepts. Therefore, as per Pinker, learning of language does not have a particular grammar for the application. Here, grammar is unusual within the natural world and when learning the language, people are learning a method of putting words in order. Besides, there is an innate plan of putting each word in a particular slot of a sentence.

Steven Pinker supports the language autonomy of Chomsky who argued that the structure of language is genetically endowed for every entity. As per the principle of linguistic freedom, the language capability in human beings is prewired biologically for processing language within the immediate environment. Therefore, the acquisition of language by a person is in the form of an innate structure and functioning of the human mind. The brain structures have the ability to control the production as well as interpretation of speech. For example, Pinker's case confirms that babies do not require any formal teaching for the purpose of learning how to speak.

Whorf (1939)

In his idea of language acquisition, Whorf viewed the subject as relative and highly determined by the environment and culture of an individual. Whorf seems to have adopted a behavioral theorist perspective of language acquisition. The view of Whorf's Language theory is one that has an intrinsic association with culture and anthropology. Here, the hypothesis is based on linguistic relativism which argues that the language structure has an influence on the way a person can conceive and experience the world (Whorf, 1939). It is also based on linguistic determinism which claims that the language structure causes differences in cognition among people from different linguistic communities. Here, when a person is speaking, the tendency is that one thinks and acts by following an established pattern of language. The focus here is not on one word but essential aspects that shape language including numbers and tenses. The focus here is using categories of grammatical words when speaking. How language is constructed within the society determines how it is understood and used in different contexts. Language is acquired from built habits of a community, groups or a culture that disposes an individual to particular choices of interpretation.

Whorf seems to support Skinner's view of language acquisition which is influenced by cognitive behavior. A person learns language through trial and error. For example, a child would succeed in learning language through trial and error until one uses it correctly. Babies are reinforced and shaped by the environment and culture in the learning of language. Therefore, language is learned after a person receives something from another and imitating others. Learning of grammar is shaped after reinforcement from another stimulus where grammatical patterns are learned through interpreting an experience. Learning of language is through the experience of a situation that affects behavior.

Supporting Whorf's Language theory

The language theory described by Whorf holds because this is what happens in reality. It is possible to proof the argument of Whorf that language learning occurs from experience as shaped by culture and anthropology. Usually, accepting the use of certain words depends on the context they are used. The thinking and behavior interconnect language with culture and this influence personal way of learning the language. Boroditsky (2011) supports this view by stating that the speakers of various languages will differ based on how useful they can remember the person who performs a particular action. Here, experience shapes language where specific behaviors are given language formula in which a situation speaks for itself. Here, language is developed based on the habits of the group which reflects the reality than anything else.

When comparing Whorf's theory of language to that of Pinker, it is difficult for a person to proof in real cases how language is acquired when using the language theory of Pinker. The inbuilt mental apparatus that dictate learning of language is not practical by but something that can only be imagined. Further, it is not possible to reconcile how language is acquired innately with facts from different languages. Being innate built means it is a biological process. However, no mechanism of biology explains how language is learned innate. It means that one cannot proof the source of meaning for different words acquired innate.


In conclusion, Pinker and Whorf advocate for innatist and behavioral language theories respectively. Pinker bases the language theory on the principle of linguistic autonomy that advocated for language learning as prewired biologically. Whorf states that language acquisition is connected to culture and anthropology. The experience of behavior dictates the development of grammar and vocabulary. Supporting the language theory of Whorf makes sense because one can proof its applicability in reality while Pinker's language theory is not practical as there is not a biological mechanism that explains how language is acquired innately.


Boroditsky, L. (2011). How language shapes thought the languages we speak affect our perceptions of the world. Cognitive Psychology. Scientific American.

Levinson, S. (2009). Chapter 2: Language and mind: let's get the issues straight!. In Blum, Susan D. Making Sense of Language: Readings in Culture and Communication. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Pinker, S. (1994). Chapter 4: How language works. In Blum, Susan D. Making Sense of Language: Readings in Culture and Communication. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Whorf, B. (1939). Chapter 9: The relation of habitual thought and behavior to language. In Blum, Susan D. Making Sense of Language: Readings in Culture and Communication. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

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