Innatism, originated from Latin words ‘in’ and ‘natus’; a theory of philosophy in which ideas, or principles, are considered to be present in the mind at birth, either fully formed or requiring some additional experience for their complete formulation. It is a philosophical doctrine that holds that the mind is born with ideas or knowledge, and that therefore the mind is not a ‘blank slate’ at birth, as early empiricists such as John Locke claimed.
It asserts therefore that not all knowledge is obtained from experience and the senses. There is a question- how is it that we have certain ideas which are not conclusively derivable from our environments? Noam Chomsky has taken this problem as a philosophical framework for the scientific enquiry into Innatism. His linguistic theory attempts to explain in cognitive terms how we can develop knowledge of systems which are too rich and complex to be derived from our environment as our linguistic faculty. Our linguistic systems contain a systemic complexity which could not be empirically derived.
The environment is too variable and indeterminate to explain the extraordinary ability to learn complex concepts possessed by very young children. It follows that humans must be born with a universal innate grammar, which is determinate and has a highly organized directive component, and enables the language learner to ascertain and categorize language heard into a system. In this way, linguistics has provided a window into the human mind, and has established scientific theories of innateness which were previously merely speculative.
One implication of Noam Chomsky’s Innatism is that at least a part of human knowledge consists in cognitive predispositions, which are triggered and developed by the environment, but not determined by it. Parallels can then be drawn, on a purely speculative level, between our moral faculties and language. Locke, in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, suggests that the concept of universal assent in fact proves nothing, except perhaps that everyone is in agreement; in short universal assent proves that there is universal assent and nothing else. Moreover, Locke goes on to suggest that in fact there is no universal assent.
Even a phrase such as ‘What is, is’ is not universally assented to, infants and severely handicapped adults do not generally acknowledge this truism. Locke also attacks the idea that an innate idea can be imprinted on the mind without the owner realizing it. To return to the musical analogy, we may not be able to recall the entire melody until we hear the first few notes, but we were aware of the fact that we knew the melody and that upon hearing the first few notes we would be able to recall the rest. Locke would not accept the idea that we can know something yet not know that we knew it.
There is a grammar in the brain of every human being, according to Noam Chomsky, that called Universal grammar (UG). Chomsky has not made specific claims about the implications of his theory for second language learning. Linguists working within the Innatist theory have argued that UG offers the best perspective to understand SLA. UG can explain why L2 learners eventually know more about the language than they could reasonably have learned (i. e. UG can explain L2 learners’ creativity and generalization ability). Other linguists argue that UG is not a good explanation for SLA, especially by learners who have passed the critical period (i. . CPH does not work in SLA). There are two different views through which UG works in SLA – 1. The nature and availability of UG are the same in L1 and L2 acquisition. Adult L2 learners, like children, neither need nor benefit from error correction and meta-linguistic information. These things change only the superficial appearance of language performance and do not affect the underlying competence of the new language. 2. UG may be present and available to L2 learners, but its exact nature has been altered by the prior acquisition of the first language.
L2 learners need to be given some explicit information about what is not grammatical in the L2. Otherwise, they may assume that some structures of the L1 have equivalents in the L2 when, in fact, they do not. A distinct is often made between competence and performance in the study of language. Competence, in accordance with, Chomsky (1965), competence consists of the mental representation of linguistic rules which constitute the speaker-hearer’s internalized grammar. Performance consists of the comprehension and production of language. Language acquisition studies-both first and second-are interested in how competence is developed.
However, because the rules the learner has internalized are not open to direct inspection, it has been necessary to examine how the learner performs, mainly in production. The utterances that the learner produces are treated as windows through which the internalized rule system can be viewed. In one sense, therefore, SLA research is about evidence for what is going on inside the learner’s head. One of the major problems of SLA research has been precisely to what extent competence can be inferred from performance. We may illustrate the terms “competence” and “performance” in the following table- Competence |Performance | |Language is seen as autonomous system. |Language is seen as a form of human behaviour. | |Forms the basis for formal linguistics. |Forms the basis for psychologistics. | |Based on the study of introspective data. |Based on the study of actual language behaviour. | |There is mental grammar, a speaker’s knowledge of that |It is experimental behaviour. | |autonomous system. | |
SLA researchers from the UG perspective (Innatism) are more interested in the language competence (i. e. , knowledge of complex syntax) of advanced learners rather than in the simple language of early stage learners. Their investigations often involve comparing the judgments of grammaticality made by L2 and L1 learners, rather than observations of actual language performance (i. e. , use of language). To conclude, the word competence refers to the knowledge which underlies our ability to use language; and, performance refers to the way a person actually uses language in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Performance is subject to variations due to inattention, anxiety, or fatigue whereas competence (at least for the mature native speaker) is more stable. The theory of Innatism invoked to explain how we can have knowledge of certain propositions that seem to go beyond experience, either by of its universal applicability or by its subject matter goes beyond experiential reality. ————————————————————————————–