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Guide to Linguistic Theories, Research and Concepts | Initial Language Acquisition

Beth Kemp | Thursday September 08, 2011

Categories: Hot Entries, Child Language Acquisition, An Introduction to Child Language Acquisition, Linguistics Theory & Study, Linguistic Theory, Using Theory

This guide explores the key theoretical positions, and some useful case studies and research findings needed for the study of how children develop language.  It is not exhaustive – there are further case studies and sets of research findings which are useful to students in studying acquisition – but there are enough here to be able to discuss theories with sensible reference to evidence.  At the same time, different specifications will have different expectations in terms of students’ familiarity with research and theory, so some of the ideas covered here may not be required by your specification.

Studying language acquisition is concerned with two main questions:

  • 1. How do children use language?

This question is addressed mostly through data response tasks, which require students to show knowledge of typical ways in which children’s language is different to adult usage.  Some specifications ask students to explore children’s spoken and written acquisition, while others are concerned only with spoken acquisition.  This kind of question is essentially AO1 assessment, checking students’ ability to describe the features of children’s speech and/or writing.  As well as usage of the linguistic frameworks/methods, there are some extra terms, specific to children’s language, to learn. (For more on the analysis of children’s language, see the Child Language Acquisition section of EnglishEdu).

  • 2. How do children acquire language?

This is the key theoretical aspect, requiring students to have knowledge of the main theories of acquisition.  This kind of response also usually expects students to use examples of language produced by children, references to research findings and/or case studies to provide evidence for theoretical claims, and to question their application to children’s actual behaviour.

It is important that students learn the four main theories of spoken acquisition as inter-related, and that they do not...

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