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 Language Acquisition  posted by  duggu   on 12/12/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Wexler, Ken, 9.57J Language Acquisition, Fall 2001. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 08 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

A sample stimulus item from an experiment testing children's knowledge of pronoun reference.

A sample stimulus item from an experiment testing children's knowledge of pronoun reference. (Drawing by Prof. Ken Wexler.)

Course Highlights

What is it that someone knows, when we say that he or she knows a language? This is the question addressed by linguists and psycholinguists exploring the structure of a language. This course features an extensive reading list. The assignments are in the form of problem sets with solutions. A detailed overview of the subject as well as reviews of the course are located in the study materials. 

Course Description

Covers the major results in the study of first language acquisition concentrating on the development of linguistic structure, including sentence structure and morphology. Universal aspects of development are discussed, as well as a variety of cross-linguistic phenomena. Theories of language learning are considered, including parameter-setting and maturation.

*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.



What is it that someone knows, when we say that he or she knows a language? This is the question addressed by researchers --- linguists and psycholinguists --- exploring the structure of a language. Knowledge of language can be broken down into at least the following four components: 1) phonology: how sounds are put together to form larger units, such as words; 2) syntax: how words are put together to form sentences; 3) semantics: how the meaning of sentences is determined from the meaning of the words and the way that they are combined; and 4) discourse structure: how sentences are put together into larger discourse structures.

In this course we will study how language is acquired. Although at times we will touch on issues in phonological and discourse acquisition, the majority of the lectures will be on syntactic and semantic issues within normal first language acquisition, with some attention to relevant material from second language acquisition and studies of linguistic deviance. The course will be oriented towards experimental data and natural production data, so that experimental and quantitative methodologies for obtaining data relevant to language acquisition will be discussed. Some (lesser) attention will be paid to (computational) theories of language learning. There will also be an emphasis on the relation of linguistic principles to the problems of language acquisition, so some linguistic background will be useful, although lectures and extra sessions will help to fill in this background. In general, the course may be looked on as a, rigorous introduction to the study of the learning and development of central properties of syntactic structure.


24.900 or permission of the instructor.


The readings for this course consist of summary articles and research papers from the language acquisition literature.

20% - Exercises and brief (3 page maximum) writing assignment
35% - Mid-term exam
35% - Final exam
10% - Class participation

Both exams will be open book.

You are responsible for the material in the readings and in the lectures. Note that there will be material in lectures that is not in the readings.

Policy on Working in Groups

Working in groups is allowed and encouraged, but all exercises must be written in your own words. (No copying or group submissions.)




  LEC #       TOPICS
  1       Introduction: The Problem of Language Learning
  2       Learnability
  3       Input
  4       Principles and Parameters: X-Bar Theory, Theta Roles Phrase Structure
  5       Principles and Parameters Continued: Including Verb Movement
  6       Early Child Clause Structure, Verb Movement and Inflection
  7       Verb Second Phenomena in Early Development
  8       Case and Agreement in Syntax and Development
  9       Introduction to Second Language Acquisition, and Its Differences from First Language Acquisition
  10       Case, Agreement and Morphology in Development and Hypotheses about Oi Stage
  11       Null Subjects and Parameter-Setting
  12       Null Subjects in Child English: A Grammatical Phenomenon?
  13       Null Subjects and The Oi Stage
          Mid-Term Exam
  14       Specific Language Impairment
  15       Binding Theory, Syntax, Parameters, The Subset Principle and Learning
  16       Binding Theory: Reflexives and Pronouns in Development
  17       Second Language Acquisition and Its Relation to L1. Maturation and The Critical Period Hypothesis
  18       Controversies in Binding Theory, Development, Determiners and The Theory Of Reference
  19       Theories of Parameter-Setting
  20       Argument-Chains in Syntax and Development -- Passives
  21       More Argument Chains in Development: Unaccusatives in Russian
  22       The Development of Control
  23       Extra Topic
  24       Review
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