Knowledge is derived from experience of the outside world.
Information is copied by sensations and images, remembered, associated with other stored information. Complex ideas result from associating simple ideas.
Proponent: John Locke
Functionalist and ‘usage-based’ models which have arisen in contrast to the leading Rationalist theory of Noam Chomsky reveal a central concern for understanding the interaction of children with the input data during the time course of language acquisition.
Karl Lashley criticises empiricism in this way: Whatever there is serialization of units, the set of units must be organised. What then determines the order? There must be a higher order organiser and this requires a cognitive representation.
Empiricist theories attempt to explain language acquisition without attributing to children abstract knowledge. Bates and MacWhinney (1989, 1987) propose a “Functionalism and Competition Model” of language acquisition, according with general ‘connectionist’ modeling and with a “language making capacity”. A usage based account hypothesizes that language acquisition is based on item by item imitative learning (Tomasello, 2000).