Language acquisition

Steven GillisDorit Ravid

Table of contents

The study of language acquisition is a multidisciplinary enterprise, in which various disciplines meet. Linguistics is a first discipline in this context: linguists describe children’s language in terms of the structural characteristics of the child’s language production and try to capture the commonalities shown by children acquiring different languages as well as differences in the acquisition process. They ask questions such as: how does typology influence the acquisition process? What are the individual differences between children acquiring the same language? Psycholinguists and psychologists study the social and cognitive underpinnings of language: the socio-cognitive dynamics of language acquisition (given that language is not acquired in a social vacuum), and the cognitive processes involved in language production and comprehension, such as the role of perception, memory, attention, etc. Neurolinguists try to unravel the genetic bases of language by studying brain development processes associated with the emergence of linguistic communication. The list of disciplines is not exhaustive: there are indeed audiological, biological, ethological, evolutionary, psychological, sociological and other aspects of language acquisition that are not properly captured by our initial enumeration of so-called ‘hyphen-linguists’. And once we start thinking about delayed and disordered language acquisition, still other disciplines have proven their relevance, such as communications disorders, or medical informatics and robotics if we think of situations like hearing impaired children with a cochlear implantation, etc.

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