First Language Acquisition - LING5440

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


This course will start by examining the topic of language acquisition, demarcating the domains for linguistic inquiry. It will challenge everyday assumptions about the way in which children acquire language and introduce key theoretical issues, always assessing the validity of each theory on the basis of empirical evidence. The course will examine the biological basis of language and its localisation and lateralisation, using evidence from both typical and atypical populations. It will evaluate the role of input in language acquisition and the extent to which this facilitates linguistic development. All these issues will be set against an understanding of the normal stages of language acquisition, essentially mapping out the linguistic milestones reached by typically developing children to the age of four. An understanding of the interaction between the components involved (phonology, morphology, semantics, rudimentary structure, pragmatics) will provide the empirical backdrop to assess the efficacy of theoretical models introduced. The course will end, having laid the foundations for students to undertake a higher level of research in this area.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 20

Method of assessment

Online Timed Quiz (60 minutes) – 35%
Essay (1,500 words) – 65%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List:

Aitchison, J (2011). The Articulate Mammal. Unwin Hyman
Boysson-Bardies (2000) How Language Comes to Children. Bradford Books
Cattell, Ray (2007) Children's Language: Consensus and Controversy. London: Cassell.
Foster-Cohen, S (1999) An Introduction to Child Language Development. London, New York: Addison Wesley Longman
Fromkin, V and Rodman, R. (1993) An Introduction to Language. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.
Peccei, J. S (1999) Child Language. London: Routledge
Pinker, S. (1994) The Language Instinct. Penguin.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

Demonstrate their understanding of core concepts in linguistic theory, the fundamentals of empirical enquiry and be able to distinguish key theories that have approached the logical problem of language acquisition;
Recognise the milestones that characterise typical patterns of language acquisition and be able to link these to standard measures of linguistic stages;
Evaluate the role of environmental, cognitive and linguistic factors in language acquisition, and the relations between them;
Develop lines of argument and make informed judgements, which support/contest theories, on the basis of empirical evidence that they will have considered throughout the course;
Demonstrate an understanding of how to assess the extent to which a child's language is age- and stage- appropriate.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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