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The University of Southampton

LING1004 Language Acquisition

Module Overview

You may have asked yourself how children learn their first language or whether some animals can speak just like humans do. People often wonder whether there are any lifelong benefits of bilingualism as well. This module introduces you to the field of language acquisition providing answers to these questions and more. The module is an introduction to relevant theories and research methods in language acquisition exploring conflicting proposals including ‘Universal Grammar’ and usage-based approaches. The module also provides you with a comprehensive overview of relevant aspects of bilingual acquisition by both children and adults including cases of children learning a minority language (‘heritage language acquisition’) and adults ‘forgetting’ their first language (language attrition).

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • A good understanding of the main principles and theories in the field of first language acquisition and bilingualism;
  • Understand the biological capacities that make language acquisition possible, as well as the role that social factors play in this process.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Gain essential skills in analysing linguistic datasets
  • Gain essential knowledge and skills to evaluate theoretical studies
Cognitive Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Analyse, interpret and criticise academic texts and opposing positions


The first few weeks will introduce you to some of the most important theories of first language acquisition as well as the main questions guiding research in this field, in particular how much of the acquisition process if innate and how much is social. These first sessions will also allow you to familiarise with the linguistic milestones reached by children from birth to about five years of age in the areas of vocabulary, morphosyntax and phonology. In the second part of the module the focus is shifted to language acquisition in bilingual contexts by both children and adults. The role that both linguistic and social factors play in the success of bilingual acquisition will be explored in detail. You will also learn about language attrition, when acquisition of a first language is interrupted and even reversed, and about the learning experience of ‘heritage language speakers’ Topics are likely to include:  Biological Bases of Language Development. Exploring the ‘human language faculty’. Animal vs human language.  Theories of language acquisition: Piaget, Vygotsky and Chomsky.  Acquiring a first language: defining the task and main milestones  Acquiring a first language: phonological, syntactic and lexical development  Acquiring a first language: how much is innate?  Acquiring a first language: the role of social interaction and gesture.  The Critical Period Hypothesis.  Child bilingual acquisition: exploring the role of input  Child bilingual acquisition: biological foundations and lifelong consequences.  Incomplete language acquisition: exploring heritage language acquisition.  Adult bilingualism: exploring native language attrition

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include  1 lecture per week  1 seminar per week The lectures serve to introduce, analyse and investigate key aspects of language acquisition, bilingualism and attrition. The seminars provide you with preliminary general guidance to apply that knowledge to the analysis of real acquisition data which will be drawn from established datasets (e.g. CHILDES and ‘Talkbank’).

Wider reading or practice10
Completion of assessment task26
Preparation for scheduled sessions70
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

CHILDES Database.

Lust, B.C. and Foley, C. (2004). First Language Acquisition: The Essential Readings. 

Retherford, K. S. (2007). Guide to analysis of language transcripts. 

Pearson, B. Z (2007). Social factors in childhood bilingualism in the United States. Applied Psycholinguistics. ,28 , pp. 399-410.

Guasti, M. T. (2002). Language Acquisition: The growth of grammar. 

Stillwell Peccei, J (2006). Child language: a resource book for students. 

Hauser, M. D., Chomsky, N., & Fitch, W. T. (2002). The faculty of language: What is it, who has it, and how did it evolve?. Science. , pp. 1569-1579.

Pinker, S. (1999). Words and rules. 

Hoff, E. (2009). Language Development. 

Ritchie, W.C. & Bhatia, K.T (1999). Child language acquisition: introduction, foundations, and overview. Handbook of child language acquisition. , pp. 3-32.

Harley, T. (2001). The psychology of language. 

Senghas, A., & Coppola, M. (2001). Children creating language: How Nicaraguan sign language acquired a spatial grammar. Psychological Science. ,12 , pp. 323-328.



In-seminar assessments


MethodPercentage contribution
Data Analysis  (2000 words) 50%
Research essay  (2000 words) 50%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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