Essay on Human Language : Innate Or Constructed?

1217 Words Nov 2nd, 2014 5 Pages
Human Language: Innate or Constructed?
Human language is a unique characteristic among species on planet Earth. Though many creatures use various methods to communicate, no known creatures other than humans have a language that vastly describes the universe. Is this ability innate or is it the product of environmental factors? In order to answer this, one must investigate a wide array of phenomena.
First, it would be beneficial to define what language is. Though the exact meaning may be debatable in some circles, generally language can be defined as a set of rules that control the use of arbitrary signifiers in order to share information (Owens 8). This is what human beings do. Each signifier is made up of phonemes, which in a sense are each individual sound that is emitted by the speaker. Amazingly, human beings can process about twelve phonemes per second (Levelt 223). As one may infer, this suggests some cognitive hardwiring must be in place for humans to operate at that efficiency. This suggests an innate component to human language.
The opposing argument to this is that human language is constructed out of the environment. A major proponent of this idea was B.F. Skinner, who is famous for developing the branch of psychology known as Behaviorism. Behaviorists often claim that every aspect of a creature is determined by reinforcement from the environment. In this case, the focus is on language, but the principle is clear by their reckoning: language is not different…

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