Noam Chomsky

Although he is primarily a linguist, Noam Chomsky’s impact on psychology has been immense. In his scathing review of Skinner’s book Verbal Behavior, Chomsky calls psychology to task for its oversimplification of language and its acquisition.

Chomsky pointed out that because language occurs in complex situations, stimulus control is very unlikely. Similarly, unless behaviorism can specify how language is overtly reinforced, there is no need to assume that reinforcement is involved. Chomsky also attacked response strength, noting that yelling “beautiful” repeatedly at a painting would show high response strength but would not necessarily convey what the speaker thought of it.

According to Chomsky’s transformational-generative grammar, language is an innate human capacity. It is a unique, creative process. For Chomsky, the capacity for language is innate but the actual language one speaks is learned. He maintains that children acquire language too quickly for it to be learned.

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