LINGUISTICS 425/709: Child Language Acquisition

TuTh 2:30PM - 3:45PM, 108 Blake

Instructor: Clifton Pye, Blake 424, 864-3450, pyersqr (at) ku (dot) edu

Office Hours: Tuesday, Thursday 1-2 pm or by appointment.

Textbook: First Language Acquisition by David Ingram

The question of how children acquire their first language(s) defines the core of generative grammar. This question is a central concern of linguistics precisely because children become proficient speakers of any human language faster than linguists. The course will introduce students to the challenge of discovering what is universal and what is particular about children’s acquisition of different languages. The course will examine data on children’s lexical, semantic, phonological and morphosyntactic development with the goal of distinguishing universal processes from their language-specific manifestations. By analyzing child language samples, students will become familiar with basic research techniques and how to use these results to evaluate acquisition theories. Students should be able to intelligently discuss the method, description and explanation of articles on language acquisition by the end of the semester.


I. Study questions (60%)

The course grade will be based primarily on written responses to the study questions for each segment of the class. The study questions cover material that is in the text book as well as material introduced in class. Study questions must be turned in by the last day of each segment. Late questions will not be accepted. The study questions will count towards 60% of the course grade.

Study Questions

Due Date

1 Methods and Theory

Jan. 26

2 Words

Feb. 7

3 Meaning

Feb. 21

4 Phonology

Mar. 7

5 Sentences

Apr. 13

6 Inflection

Apr. 27

7 Pronouns

May 4

II. Homework assignments (30%)

The course grade will be also be based on three short analyses of child language data and two in-class exams. Each analysis and exam will count towards 10% of the course grade. The analyses will assess lexical, phonological and syntactic development and use the results to evaluate a theory of language acquisition. The analyses should be limited to three double-spaced TYPED pages for undergraduates and five double-spaced pages for graduate students.




Due Date


Lexical Analysis


Feb. 14


Phonological Analysis


Mar. 9


Subject and Objects


May 4

III. Class participation (10%)

Classroom participation is expected and will count towards 10% of the final mark for all students. The class will have a discussion format, and I will call on each student from time to time to participate in the discussion. Students cannot earn full credit for participation without coming to class.

Academic Misconduct:

Plagiarism, including cheating on exams, is the presentation of someone else’s work as your own. Plagiarism includes copying off of handouts, class notes/slides, the textbook, or internet without citing the source of information. Plagiarism will result in a grade of zero for any assignment or exam and the incident will be reported to University authorities. A second offence will result in an F for the class. Please ask me if you have any questions or concerns about how to avoid plagiarizing someone’s else’s work.

Student Accommodations

The Academic Achievement & Access Center coordinates accommodations and services for all KU students with disabilities or special circumstances. If you have a disability for which you wish to request accommodations and have not contacted the AAAC, please do so as soon as possible. Their office is located in 22 Strong Hall; their phone number is 785-864-2620. Please contact me privately in regard to your needs in this course as soon as possible.


The reading assignments are designed to complement the class lectures for the week. It is to your advantage to complete the reading before the class discussion of the topic.

Tentative Dates



Study Questions

Jan. 17

The Observation of Children’s Language

Ingram 1-31; 38-80

Methods and Theory


The Period of Single Word Utterances



Jan. 26

Single Words

Ingram 139-154


Feb. 7

Semantic Development

Ingram 155-160; 394-432


Feb. 21

Phonological Development

Ingram 83-115; 180-219



First Word Combinations



Mar. 7

First Word Combinations

Ingram 234-261


Mar. 14

Explanation: Older Studies

Ingram 261-302


Mar. 21




Apr. 4

Explanation: Recent Studies

Ingram 302-337



Advanced Language Development



Apr. 11


Ingram 435-454


Apr. 25


Ingram 454-465


May 2

Null Subjects

Ingram 331-332; 483-493