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LAD, Language Acquisition Device

LAD, Language Acquisition Device

LAD, Language acquisition device, is a theoretical or suppositional tool in the human brain that helps the child in the language learning process, in understanding as well as making a response. Noam Chomsky developed a theory by the name of LAD. According to this theory or concept, there is a proper mechanism for language learning in the human brain. There is a complete structure for the processing of language and its production in the human brain. With the help of this mechanism or structure, every human child learns a particular language. This structure helps them to comprehend and learn a language as they become mature by time.

Noam Chomsky is a US Based philosopher, theorist, cognitivist, scientist, and linguist. He is well known for his contribution to the field of linguistics as well as in politics. Chomsky is considered “the father of modern Linguistics” and describes various ideas regarding linguistics. In 1955 Chomsky presented the “Theory of Transformational Grammar” and awarded a doctorate. Chomsky explains the study of cognitive linguistics and also about the study of the language vision of the human mind. His theory presents the basic idea of human language that how the human mind or brain works for the processing of language as he describes that every individual has an inborn faculty to learn a language. This inborn faculty or capability helps him to learn a particular language. According to Chomksy, there is a proper structure for language learning and processing in the human brain. He calls that particular structure of language formation LAD, or language acquisition device. With the help of this language acquisition device, the child learns language so early and rapidly. According to Chomksy, the essential function of LAD is to help in decoding the message and manage the process of performance of the language.

LAD, Language Acquisition Device by Noam Chomsky
LAD, Language Acquisition Device by Noam Chomsky

LAD Is a hypothetical tool designed and fixed into the human brain. It assists children to learn and comprehend language so rapidly. Chomsky explains the point that how wonderfully children acquire language abilities as well as accounting for the innate understanding of grammar and syntax process that all children possess. Here is also an important point that LAD is a theoretical or suppositional concept. There is not a specified section of the brain that have “LAD, Language acquisition device”, having a printed name on it with a switch button; when it will be turned on, the language learning process will be continued. LAD explains the hundreds of thousands of fundamental processes of human brains. That has evolved to make us particularly exceptional at learning and understanding language.

Read also: Philosophy of Language

Chomsky believes that all children have the most favorable learning age from 3 years to 10 years. It is time when children try to learn and try to talk in their natural style, and they become fluent. At this stage, children are not bound to learn a language and the language learning process goes forward naturally. Even the parents do not force their children to learn and speak the language, but this process goes on conventionally and unintentionally. As a child listens to someone speaking, he/she also tries to speak and produce something; in this way, the language learning process moves forward. Children’s language learning process is very extraordinary as well as it is also remarkable for linguistic scholars and researchers. Chomsky developed the idea or theory of LAD in 1950, and after that, he makes some improvements and comes to a more significant idea called “UG or Universal Grammar”. This idea was developed for the first language developments in human beings. Nevertheless, our topic of discussion is not universal grammar but a Language acquisition device, LAD here.

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 Critics Views Regarding LAD

A number of linguists and scholars support the Chomskian concept of language innateness. Eric Lenneberg’s hypothesis also supports this concept. Lenneberg’s book “Biological Foundations of Language” was published in 1967. This book describes the concept of the innateness of human language that how human beings are capable of the understanding and learning of a language only until puberty. After puberty, a human is unable to acquire language and get mastery over it.

Researchers of Zoology have recognized for many years, that the existence of critical developmental periods for a range of non-human species, such as ducklings, songbirds, horses, sheep, and dogs. Various evidence for the Lenneberg’s critical period hypothesis for human language was drawn from multiple sources. Case studies of children raised without sufficient exposure to human language appeared to support the critical period hypothesis. Such individuals, such as Victor, the wild child, and Genie, had not been able to master the grammatical complexities of sentence construction. Individuals born with severe hearing loss who were not exposed to a signed language until after puberty typically had not been able to achieve native-like proficiency. Furthermore, there was wide anecdotic evidence that individuals who attempt to learn a second language after puberty rarely achieve a level of competence comparable to that of one who learns the language during childhood.

LAD, Language Acquisition Device by Noam Chomsky
Language Acquisition Device

Various researchers criticize the notion of language learning as a natural process or by innate knowledge. Some of them present the B.F Skinner’s view published in his book “Verbal Behavior” that language can be learned through practice as a skill after the birth of the child. Many other cognitive scientists, such as David Rumelhart and James McClelland, argue that language is learned through the general learning principles instead of a particular mechanism of innateness. Chomsky describes that the fundamental challenge regarding this opposite approach for language learning is adequately explaining that how children perform in word formation and sentences that they do not practice in the surroundings and, thus, have no chance to learn. Chomksy also disagrees with the notion of od imitation in language learning. Mainly if an adult is using a structure that the child has not started to use yet. Chomksy also describes that children get fluency in their native language by the age of ten years as well as if children are going to learn two different languages at the same time, they will become fluent in both languages.

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How LAD Applied to Child’s Learning

According to Chomsky’s point of view, every individual child is born with LAD. This language acquisition device holds all the fundamental rules of a language. We also can say children are born with an understanding of these language rules. As children know the rules, so they require only vocabulary. He also provides evidence to support his viewpoint. According to Chomsky, Humans are born with the LAD, but other species of the animal kingdom do not possess this capability. Only humans can learn a language while other creatures or non-human primates are not capable of learning the language. For example, if we try to teach language to a goat or dog, they are not capable of this faculty as they have not the basic innate language structure, LAD. So they can not learn a language. Even the chimpanzees and gorillas that are considered the forefathers of human species provide a mixed result. They only learn some of the sign languages, as “American Sign language, ASL”. In an experiment, Washoe(the chimpanzee) and Koko (the Gorilla) have learned various signs and are capable of using them to refer to concrete objects and concepts, as hungry, thirsty, etc. Nevertheless, they are not capable of producing language as a human can. On the other hand, a human child can learn any language as per his/her atmosphere and environment.

Above said example strengthen the Chomsky’s concept of LAD as human beings have some specific features in their brain related to language learning and processing. This type of brain structures are absent in non-human species; that is why they are not capable of producing language. Nevertheless, there is not a specific location where LAD is present in the human brain. Multiple locations are considered the language processing areas as “Broca’s area” and “Wernicke’s area”.

Read also: An Introduction to Corpus Linguistics

According to Chomsky, language or languages are fundamentally the same all over the world as we observe that every human language has something like a noun, verb. That is the same in all human languages As well as there are positive and negative things in the language. Chomsky provides evidence in this regard.

Chomsky also describes that when children are learning to speak, they do not make the errors as expected. For example, children seem to interprets that all sentences have a structure ‘subject-verb-object’. Although they are not capable of producing a full correct sentence, they have the idea of the innateness of the language. Even before reaching to the fluency of the language, young children try to apply their innate knowledge of the language in practice. Young children also take notice of the incorrect sentences when someone speaks around them. For example, most of the children know that we can make plural by adding ‘s’ to the singular. So they try to use ‘s’ with every word for making its plural. Even here are some words that have the exception of this rule. However, children do not know this fact, and they apply. For example, a child tries to make a plural of the word ‘sheep’ as ‘sheeps’ and ‘deer’ as ‘deers’, even though our language has exceptions for these words.

Read also: Historical linguistics

Limitations of the LAD Theory

Most of the critics of LAD point out that there is not enough evidence in favor of this theory. Theory totally belongs on a hypothetical explanation, and there is not a particular place where LAD is located as well as LAD Model ignores the importance of social interactions and practice of the language. There is not a proper explanation for the children’s language learning who are mentally retarded or having some mental disabilities

  1. Chomsky (1959). A review of B. F. Skinner’s Verbal behavior. Language, 35, 26–58.
  2. Chomsky (1986).  Knowledge of language:  Its nature, origin, and use. New York: Praeger.
  3. Lenneberg (1967).  Biological foundations of language. New York: Wiley.
  4. Noam Chomsky  home  page,
  5. Pinker, S.  (1994).  The language instinct.  New York:  W.Morrow.

Written  & Reviewed by: Muhammad Asad Kasra,


M.Phil Scholar, Riphah Institute of Language and Literature, Riphah International University Lahore, Pakistan.


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