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Functionalism vs. Rationalism | TESL Issues

Functionalism proposes that can ultimately be explained without recourse to a special that takes up where cognition leaves off ( & , 1989, p. 7). It attempts to rectify a lack of emphasis on learning in the rationalist perspective. The source of knowledge is proposed to lie in the , not in the mind. Discoveries are made “during processing of the structure inherent in the ” (, 1996, p. 123). The mechanisms of acquisition lie in . “is guided by ” ( & MacWhinney, 1989, p. 26). The relation between input data and the child mind/brain is direct and input-driven. The approach is founded on an interpretation of linguistic functionalism: “the forms of natural languages are created, governed, constrained, acquired and used in the service of communicative functions” ( and MacWhinney, 1989, p. 3) which attributes a causal and reinforcing role to pragmatic factors in .

Symbolic rules, principles or constraints are replaced by physical architecture and its functions. of the input data and computation over this representation are bypassed initially, and only emerges as a “property of the network’s functioning” (Elman, 1996, p. 124).

Language acquisition is viewed not as a cognitive problem, but as “a perceptual motor problem” (Bates & MacWhinney, 1989, p. 31). Language development involves “a process of emergence” form connections (Elman, 1996, p. 359), not a cognitive construction based on over symbolic representation; “something new seems to emerge from out of nowhere” (p. 113) through a combination of biology and involving match and mismatch between inputs and outputs.

In contrast with Chomsky’s .

It reveals a central concern for understanding the interaction of children with the input data during the time course of language acquisition.


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