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.

1. Cazden, C. (1972). Child language and education.

This resource focuses on the relationship between child language development and education. It explores how language acquisition and communication skills are important for educational success. The book discusses various aspects of child language, such as phonology, syntax, and semantics, and their implications for teaching and learning.

2. Chomsky, N. (1959). Review of B. F. Skinner, Verbal behavior.

In this review, Noam Chomsky critiques B. F. Skinner’s book “Verbal Behavior.” Chomsky challenges Skinner’s behaviorist perspective on language acquisition and argues for the existence of an innate, universal grammar that underlies language learning. He introduces the concept of transformational-generative grammar, which suggests that language acquisition is driven by an innate language faculty.

3. Ewing, W. (1972). The mentalist theory of language learning.

This article discusses the mentalist theory of language learning, which emphasizes the cognitive aspects of language acquisition. The author explores how learners process and internalize linguistic structures and rules. The mentalist theory stands in contrast to behaviorist approaches that focus on external stimuli and reinforcement.

4. Krashen, S. D., & Terrell, T. D. (1983).

The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom.
“The Natural Approach” presents a language teaching methodology that aligns with Krashen’s theories of second language acquisition. It emphasizes creating a low-anxiety environment and providing comprehensible input to facilitate language learning. The book advocates for a focus on meaning rather than explicit grammar instruction.

5. Skinner, B. F. (1957). Verbal behavior.

B. F. Skinner’s book “Verbal Behavior” explores the behaviorist perspective on language acquisition. Skinner suggests that language is learned through operant conditioning, with reinforcement and shaping playing key roles in language development. He proposes that all aspects of language, including syntax and semantics, can be explained by principles of behavior.

6. Watson, J. B. (1913). Psychology as the behaviorist views it.

This article by John B. Watson presents the behaviorist viewpoint in psychology. Watson argues that psychology should focus on observable behavior rather than introspection or mental processes. He emphasizes the importance of studying the relationship between stimuli and responses, and how these associations shape behavior.