Behaviorism V Mentalism

"Mentalism" Explains the Language Within

Noam Chomsky

Chomsky would argue that language is innate. Not that there is a predisposition or innate ability towards a particular type or specific language, but towards an understanding of the universal constructs and patterns of a language system. Interaction is still absolutely necessary, as children learn the specific language by living as a part of that community and experiencing it in daily life. Chomsky rejected the scientific method as an integral part of language study because it limits what we can accept and doesn't necessarily guarantee objectivity.

Chomsky discusses the difference between two distinct methods of coding an understanding of language: competence and performance.


Competence is defined by Chomsky as the imagined ideal of linguistic structure. It is a knowledge of the structures and total system picture of language. Chomsky has assumed that people possess an innate understanding of linguistic structure, which makes the system and its components largely unconscious to speakers.


Chomsky differentiates what happens during communication in real-time as performance. Where competence describes an understanding of the whole system, performance describes the way we actually speak in single instances.

The importance of this distinction is that mentalism incorporates an understanding of the difference between the way our brains organize and understand concepts and the way we then employ those concepts in our actual lives.