Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


What is it that someone knows, when we say that he or she knows a language? This is the question addressed by researchers --- linguists and psycholinguists --- exploring the structure of a language. Knowledge of language can be broken down into at least the following four components: 1) phonology: how sounds are put together to form larger units, such as words; 2) syntax: how words are put together to form sentences; 3) semantics: how the meaning of sentences is determined from the meaning of the words and the way that they are combined; and 4) discourse structure: how sentences are put together into larger discourse structures.

In this course we will study how language is acquired. Although at times we will touch on issues in phonological and discourse acquisition, the majority of the lectures will be on syntactic and semantic issues within normal first language acquisition, with some attention to relevant material from second language acquisition and studies of linguistic deviance. The course will be oriented towards experimental data and natural production data, so that experimental and quantitative methodologies for obtaining data relevant to language acquisition will be discussed. Some (lesser) attention will be paid to (computational) theories of language learning. There will also be an emphasis on the relation of linguistic principles to the problems of language acquisition, so some linguistic background will be useful, although lectures and extra sessions will help to fill in this background. In general, the course may be looked on as a, rigorous introduction to the study of the learning and development of central properties of syntactic structure.


24.900 or permission of the instructor.


The readings for this course consist of summary articles and research papers from the language acquisition literature.


20% - Exercises and brief (3 page maximum) writing assignment
35% - Mid-term exam
35% - Final exam
10% - Class participation

Both exams will be open book.

You are responsible for the material in the readings and in the lectures. Note that there will be material in lectures that is not in the readings.

Policy on Working in Groups

Working in groups is allowed and encouraged, but all exercises must be written in your own words. (No copying or group submissions.)