Tag Archives: Acquisition
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.


Second Language Acquisition: Universality and Variability

Diane Larsen-Freeman – University of Michigan
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 3:30-5:20 pm
2336 Mason Hall

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The modern day study of second language acquisition (SLA) dates back to the late 1960s.  What launched it was the discovery of common acquisition orders and sequences of development among all learners of a given second language. Of course, there was clear native language influence on such orders and sequences, but the L1 interference was perceived to minimally “disturb” them.  This finding of universality has been remarkably robust and is widely accepted among second language acquisition researchers.  It has inspired many theoretical explanations, from the existence of an innate universal grammar, still accessible in SLA, to processability theory, which explains the common order by appealing to sentence processing constraints, to usage-based theories, which attribute the universality to features in the input, such as the frequency, saliency, and contingency of form-meaning mapping of certain constructions. More recently, there has been a shift to focusing on variability in the SLA process.  While it has always been acknowledged to be part of SLA, awareness of its ubiquity has been heightened through increased attention to social and contextual factors.  In addition, when one examines individual learners, as opposed to group phenomena, variability is obvious. Gaussian statistics, which emphasize averages, should at least be complemented with Pareto-based statistics, which feature (nearly) infinite variance.  In addition, variability has been recognized to play an important role in stimulating language development among second language learners, leading researchers to focus upon variable performance, looking for “motors of change.” The course will conclude with a consideration of a complexity-theory view of language and its learning, which inspires us to look for what unites universality and variability.

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The Development of Sociolinguistic Competence in Children

Alicia Wassink – University of Washington
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2325 Mason Hall

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This course introduces students to sociolinguistic research exploring a related set of issues at the intersection of child language acquisition research and research into sociolinguistic variation:

What is the timing of the emergence of sociolinguistic variation in children?  In particular:

How does the timing of the production of variation relate to other universal milestones of language development? When do children begin to show perceptual awareness of variation in the linguistic forms produced by others? What do we “know” about the types of social categories children conceptualize and employ in their social lives?

We begin with Dell Hymes’ notion of communicative competence, establishing a basis for understanding the abilities comprising sociolinguistic competence (systemic potential, appropriateness, occurrence, feasibility).  From there, we explore classic linguistic literature regarding milestones of child language acquisition.  We then examine key research focused upon the emergence of variability in children: 1) the history of language variation studies targeting children and preadolescent children, 2) systematic variability in childrens’ output (production), 3) variability in input to children, 4) evidence for language change in second dialect acquisition. We will look at one particular family of models, exemplar models, that seem promising for modeling of the mapping of linguistic form to social meaning in the mind because they can accommodate the types of findings described in the literature we have explored.  We will consider in particular, how and whether metalinguistic commentary from children (their “talk about talk”) might provide insights into the social categories they perceive, and the evolution of linkages between these categories and linguistic forms over time in the exemplar space.

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Usage-based Models of First and Second Language Acquisition

Nick Ellis – University of Michigan
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 pm
2336 Mason Hall

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This course develops a constructionist approach to First and Second Language Acquisition (L1A, L2A). It presents psycholinguistic and corpus linguistic evidence for L2 constructions and for the inseparability of lexis, grammar, and semantics. It outlines a psycholinguistic theory of language learning following general cognitive principles of category learning, with schematic constructions emerging from usage. It reviews how the following factors jointly determine how a construction is learned: (1) the exemplar frequencies and their Zipfian distribution; (2) the salience of their form; (3) the significance of their functional interpretation; (4) the exemplars’ similarity to the construction prototype; and (5) the reliability of these form-function mappings. It tests these proposals against large corpora of usage and longitudinal corpora of L1 and L2 learner language using statistical and computational modelling. It considers the psychology of transfer and learned attention in L2A in order to understand how L2A differs from L1A in that it involves reconstructing language, with learners’ expectations and attentional biases tuned by experience of their L1. A central theme of the course is that patterns of language usage, structure, acquisition, and change are emergent, and that there is value in viewing Language as a Complex Adaptive System.

Week 1: Constructions, their cognition and acquisition

Week 2: A frequency-informed construction grammar of English usage

Week 3: Construction learning in L1A and L2A longitudinal corpora

Week 4: L2A, learned attention, and transfer and their implications for instruction.

Course Areas: Language Acquisition, Semantics/Pragmatics, Psycholinguistics, Corpus Linguistics, Cognitive Linguistics

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