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SPCH80500 - Studies in Speech and Language: Language Acqusition


SPCH80500 - Studies in Speech and Language: Language Acqusition

80500 - Studies in Speech and Language: Language Acquisition - 3 Credits  (Cross-listed with LING72700)
Tue 4:15 - 6:15 pm
Rm. 6494
Instructor: Virginia Valian

This course emphasizes readings and discussion of mechanisms of language acquisition.  The course will examine two broad views of acquisition.  In one, the child begins with innate abstract specifications of syntactic features and the form of the grammar; the child must learn language-specific details.  

In the other view, the child begins with no innate syntax but observes lexically-specific details in the input and builds abstractions over time. The course addresses the two perspectives through readings on typical and non-typical first language acquisition; the role of input in monolingual and bilingual acquisition; and computational modeling.  Specific topics will include:  syntactic features, categories, and structures, the content and form of early syntactic representations, the role of parental input, the role of performance limitations, and models of learning.

Classes will use a combined lecture-seminar format.  Students will read original theoretical, empirical, and computational articles.  Students will also a) perform some data analysis (and optional transcription), b) write a 5-10 page midterm paper (a critical review of a recent journal article), c) make one 15-min class presentation, and d) write a final paper or take a final examination. Students are encouraged to think of their final paper as preparation for a qualifying paper. All of the assignments can have the same focus.  In the ideal case, each assignment will feed into the next so that the final paper will benefit from the earlier work.

An important goal of the course is to help students think like researchers in language acquisition and, where relevant, to consider the applied implications of basic research findings. By (transcribing and) analyzing child data, critiquing published work, and developing research plans, students can learn how to ask and answer questions in language acquisition.  

There are numerous conferences to which students might be able to submit abstracts, such as:

•    BU Conference on Language Development; November 7-9, 2014, Boston; it usually has a mid-May deadline for abstracts
•    ASHA; November 20-22, 2014, Orlando; it has a deadline of April 8, 2014
•    LSA; January 8-11, 2015, San Francisco; it usually has an end-July deadline for abstracts

Students are encouraged to identify conferences to which they might submit their work.  For example, both the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Arizona have student-run conferences.  A small conference is a good place to start.

6 course objectives; in this course you will:

•    Acquire a grounding in the basic issues and controversies in language acquisition
•    Develop skills for analyzing children's spontaneous language
•    Learn the basic experimental procedures for testing children's linguistic knowledge
•    Learn how to analyze research papers
•    Design a study, resolve a theoretical disagreement, or demonstrate one's knowledge of acquisition via a test
•    Practice organizing and delivering a talk with peers