Language Acquisition and Grammatical Variability

William Snyder – University of Connecticut
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm

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Linguistic theory aims to specify the range of grammars permitted by the human language faculty, and thereby to specify the child’s “hypothesis space” during language acquisition. This course shows, step by step, how to use acquisition data to test theoretical claims about grammatical variation. The text is the instructor’s book, Child Language: The Parametric Approach, published by Oxford University Press. The book covers a number of methodologies, but the course will focus on the analysis of longitudinal corpora of children’s spontaneous speech, and will cover methods of statistical hypothesis-testing that are appropriate for this type of data. The students in the course will each conduct an individual project using data from the Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES), which includes corpora for a range of languages. Students will learn how to use correlational analysis and distributional statistics to analyze group data, as well as non-distributional methods that are appropriate for use in single-child case-studies.

Prerequisites:  A decent grounding in syntax and/or phonology. Algebra-level mathematics. Basic computer skills in a Mac or PC environment.

Course Requirements: Enrolled students are required to attend regularly, participate actively in classroom discussion, complete an individual project using data from CHILDES, and present their findings at the final class meeting.


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