The Mentalist Theory of Language Learning By Noam Chomsky

  • Presented by Noam Chomsky in 1959
  • Chomsky argued that study of animal behavior in laboratory condition show nothing about how human beings learn language in natural conditions.

The Mentalist Theory

  • Chomsky stressed active contribution of the child and minimized the importance of imitation and reinforcement
  • Chomsky in “Review of verbal behaviour’ 1959 criticized the Behaviorists on the grounds of novelty and creativity of child language
  • Chomsky and Leeneberg claims and observations serve as a framework of Mentalist Theory

Claim of Chomsky

  • Chaild’s knowledge of their mother tongue derived from a Universal Grammar (UG) which specifies the essential from that any natural language can take
  • Universal Grammar exists as a set of innate linguistic principles common to all possible human languages
  • Chomsky called this biological ability as the language acquisition device (LAD)’
  • Child constructs grammar through a process of hypothesis testing


  • The past tense of verbs, for instance, is formed by adding ‘ed’ after the main verbs, so the child says,”goed” what psycho linguistic called ‘ ‘Over generalization’ e.g., they over generalize the use of the regular past suffis-ed to irregular verbs)
  • Children create sentences by using rules rather than by merely repeating what they have heard.
  • Chomsky proposition cannot be termed as Universal hypothesis based on the assumption that there are core and language specific rules in all language
  • Core Rules- present in all natural languages
  • Language specific rules mainly found in only, one or two languages’
  • To activate the LAD experience of language input is necessary
  • Mentalist Theory of language acquisition emphasizes the learner’s innate mental capability to learn language.


  • Ability to learn language is inborn to a child
  • Only Homo Sapiens has access to language developing qualities which are processed innately
  • Eric Lenneberg’s (1967) assertion is that only human species can learn a language. Even though severely retarded human beings were able to develop the rudiments of language
  • Lenneberg’s work provided empirical support for the built-in mental capacity for FLA
  • Chomsky-LAD in human brain


The argument is that when a child acquire language they are usually exposed to poor or incorrect forms e.g., slips of the tongue , interruptions, false starts lapses.

Principles are innate but parameters also effect. HENCE YOU HAVE NOW THE IDEA ABOUT mentalism theory. Kindly share your reviews about theory in below comment.