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The innateness hypothesis is an expression coined by Hilary Putnam to refer to a linguistic theory of language acquisition which holds that at least some knowledge about language exists in humans at birth. This hypothesis supports linguistic nativism and was first proposed by Noam Chomsky. Facts about the complexity of human language systems, the universality of language acquisition, the facility that children demonstrate in acquiring these systems, and the comparative performance of adults in attempting the same task are all commonly invoked in support. However, the validity of the innateness hypothesis is still debated. Empiricists advocate that language is learned. Some have criticized Chomsky's work, pinpointing problems with his theories while others have proposed new theories to account for language acquisition (with specific differences in terms of language acquisition per se compared to second language acquisition).
Linguistic nativism is the theory that humans are born with some knowledge of language. One acquires a language not entirely through learning.
Human language is complicated and is said to form one of the most complex areas of human cognition. However, despite its complexity, children are able to accurately acquire a language within a short period of time. Moreover, research has shown that language acquisition among children (including the blind and the deaf) occurs in ordered developmental stages. This highlights the possibility of humans having an innate language acquisition ability. According to Noam Chomsky, "The speed and precision of vocabulary acquisition leaves no real alternative to the conclusion that the child somehow has the concepts available before experience with language and is basically learning labels for concepts that are already a part of his or her conceptual apparatus." Chomsky's view that the human faculty of language is innate is also affirmed by Steven Pinker. Moreover, in his work, The Language Instinct, Pinker argued that language in humans is a biological adaptation - language is hard-wired into our minds by evolution. Furthermore, in contrast to children's ease in language acquisition, having passed the critical age for language acquisition the complexity of a language often makes it challenging for adult learners to pick up a second language. More often than not, unlike children, adults are unable to acquire native-like proficiency. Hence, with this idea in mind, nativists advocate that the fundamentals of language and grammar are innate rather than acquired through learning. The innateness hypothesis supports language nativism and several reasons and concepts have been proposed to support and explain this hypothesis. In his work, Chomsky introduced the idea of a language acquisition device (LAD) to account for the competence of humans in acquiring a language. The Universal Grammar (UG) that is also often credited to Chomsky was later introduced.
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