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SEL8687 : Language Acquisition

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Heike Pichler
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module provides a foundation for further modules in child language and second language acquisition and comprises two distinct parts.

Part I: Child language acquisition (CLA)
Aims: To introduce foundational notions in the field of child language acquisition, including major theoretical approaches, fundamental research questions, critical discoveries, and ways in which we can scientifically study child language.

Part II: Second Language Acquisition (SLA)
Aims: An introduction to the nature of second language (L2) competence, the internal and external influences involved in its acquisition and to how research is conducted. The vast majority of SLA research is on adults and this is therefore our focus.

Outline Of Syllabus

Part I
A basic introduction to the field of child/first language acquisition. The focus is on gaining an appreciation of the challenges that the infant is faced with during language development, while “cracking the code”.

Lecture topics
What needs to be acquired?
What is the challenge of language acquisition?
What is the brain basis of language?
How much experience is needed? How can we know what children Know?
The logical problem of language acquisition
Universal Grammar
Ingredients of a theory of child language acquisition
Leading research questions in the field of child language; biological basis of language acquisition, critical period
Methodology challenges

Core texts
Lust, B. 2006 Child Language: Acquisition and Growth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;
Rowland, C. 2013 Understanding Child Language Acquisition (Understanding Language). Routledge, London: Routledge;
Hoff, E. 2005, Language Development. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning;

Other useful books:
Aitchinson, J. 1998. The Articulate Mammal An Introduction to Psycholinguistics. New York: Routledge.
Jackendoff, R. 1994. Patterns in the Mind: Language and Human Nature. New York: Basic Books
Pinker, S. 1994. The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind. London: Allen Lane

Searchinger, G., Male, M., Wright, M. 2005. The Human Language Series [DVD I -- Part one. Discovering the human language: colourless green ideas; DVD II -- Part two Acquiring the human language: playing the language game]. New York: Equinox Films/Ways of Knowing, Inc.
Dale, R. and Winston,R.M.L 2001. The human body the incredible journey from birth to death [Disk 2. Brain Power]. England: BBC Worldwide.

Part II
An overview of the main issues, hypotheses, models, and theories in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and the research which revolves around them.

Lecture topics
Research and issues in SLA
L2 functional morphology
L2 morphosyntax and syntax L1 transfer and universals
Age in L2 morphosyntax/syntax
Input for acquisition of morphosyntax/syntax
Age in L2 phonology
L2 phonology: L1 transfer and universals
Input for acquisition of phonology
Individual psychological differences (aptitude; personality, etc.)
Social context in second language acquisition

Core Text
Gass, S., Behney, J. & Plonsky, L. 2013. Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course. 4th Edition. London: Routledge.
Useful for essays:
Colantoni, L, J. Steele and P. Escudero. 2015. Second Language Speech. Theory and Practice. Cambridge: CUP.
Hansen Edwards, J. and M. L. Zampini. Editors. 2008. Phonology and Second Language Acquisition. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Hawkins, R. 2001. Second Language Syntax. Cambridge: CUP.
Herschensohn, J. and M. Young-Scholten. 2013/2018. The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion451:0045:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion301:0030:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading681:0068:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study241:0024:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

For Part I, child language, module content delivered through lectures is reinforced by seminars and these help students prepare for the exam that makes sure students have the foundational knowledge they need to move on to Part I.

For Part II, second language acquisition, module content from lectures is reinforced by seminars which support students in locating and analysing data and writing up results for the essay.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination601M50The Written Exam will be replaced with a take-home exam, if the public health situation means the written exam cannot take place.
Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1A502,000 words on analysis of L2 learner data
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

An exam (Part I) is the appropriate way to make sure students have the foundational knowledge they need to move on to Part II. The Part II essay requires students to undertake an analysis of existing data (e.g. access from a database), ask research questions/formulate hypotheses and present their results in the context of relevant published sources. After this hands-on experience of working with second language data, students can consider designing their own studies to collect their own data.

Reading Lists