LING-555 Formal Approaches to Language Acquisition
Spring for 2017-2018
Faculty:
This course provides an introduction to language acquisition from the perspective of how we might account for the kind of complex linguistic knowledge a child (or adult) learner comes to attain, and how that account is both informed by and contributes to linguistic theory. We examine the notion of ‘Universal Grammar’ and how it has evolved over the past several decades, including the historical context in which it was proposed (e.g., as a response to the prevailing behavioristic learning model of the first half of the 20th century). Topics to be covered include: issues of learnability (including a hypothesized ‘poverty of the stimulus’ and the role of negative evidence in language development); the hypothesized role of ‘parameters’ in language learning (including acquisition studies of specific parameters and more general questions concerning the evolution and validity of parameter theory for language acquisition); the acquisition of morphosyntactic functional categories and features; and the extent to which knowledge of language at earlier stages of language development is of the same type or ‘continuous’ with the kind of knowledge mature native speakers possess.
We will primarily look at how these issues have been formulated with respect to child native language acquisition, with extensions to child bilingual acquisition and/or adult second language acquisition (SLA) as time and students’ interests permit. (SLA topics might include the extent to which UG constraints could be considered applicable to SLA, questions regarding the setting or ‘re-setting’ of parameters in SLA, and what constitutes the ‘initial state’ and ‘endstate’ of L2 development.)
There will be some emphasis on close reading and critical analysis of primary-source literature (i.e., actual acquisition studies) so that you will have an opportunity to become more familiar with some of the design and experimental methods employed in language acquisition research. Please note this course is only offered every other year.
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: Any course in syntax. If you have not taken one, please contact me.

Sections:

LING-555-01 Generative Language Acquisition
Professor Lardiere
The goal of this course is to examine that part of language acquisition thought to be constrained by principles of Universal Grammar. Topics include questions of learnability, markedness, parameterization, and the role of negative evidence; the description of apparent developmental sequences within this theoretical framework; a consideration of specific vs. general nativist accounts of acquisition and whether there are aspects of formal grammar which lie outside the constraints of UG. After looking at how these issues have been addressed with respect to first language acquisition, we will also examine how they have been extended to second language acquisition (SLA), including the extent to which UG constrains SLA, the description of interlanguage grammars within this framework, questions regarding the setting or re-setting of parameters in SLA and what constitutes the 'initial state' of the L2 acquirer. Prerequisites: LING-351 and one course in syntax (or permission of instructor).
Credits: 3
Prerequisites: None
More information
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