The Analysis of Verbal Behavior

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 107–131 | Cite as

Three Myths from the Language Acquisition Literature

  • Ted SchonebergerEmail author


Three popular assertions have hindered the promotion of an empiricist approach to language acquisition: (a) that Brown and Hanlon (1970) claimed to offer data that parents do not reinforce their children’s grammatically; (b) that Brown and Hanlon also claimed to offer data that parents do not provide negative evidence (i.e., corrective feedback) for ungrammaticality; and (c) that Gold (1967) claimed to offer a formal proof showing that, without negative evidence, a child cannot acquire a language solely from environmental input. In this paper I offer introductory comments on the nature-nurture distinction (including interactionism, and the nativists’ claim to have found a gene for language). Next I debunk the three aforementioned assertions by arguing that the authors (Brown & Hanlon; Gold) never made the claims attributed to them; review evidence on the role of reinforcement and corrective feedback in language acquisition; and offer some concluding comments.

Key wordsk

Brown and Hanlon (1970) positive evidence negative evidence Gold’s theorem 


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© Association of Behavior Analysis International 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kohala Educational ServicesUSA

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