Ling 111: First Language Acquisition

Class Thu Instructor Masoud Jasbi
10:30am -12:30pm
Boylston Hall Office Hours: Thu, 1:15-2:45pm [Book a Slot!]
Seminar Room 303 (Third Floor, Linguistics Department) Office: Boylston Hall G23 (Basement)


Week Month Date Topic Reading Assignments
1 Sep 6 Science, Language, and Learning Paul Bloom's Lecture at Yale (2008): How We Communicate (Link to the Video)
Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 1
Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 1
Guasti (2004). Language Acquisition: The Growth of Grammar, Chapter 1
2 13 Linguistic Input Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 2 (optional)
Lieven (2010): Input and first language acquisition
Singleton & Newport (2004): When learners surpass their models
3 20 Learning Sounds Kuhl (2004): Early Language Acquisition: Cracking the Speech Code
Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 2
Moon, Lagercrantz, and Kuhl (2013): Language experienced in utero affects vowel perception after birth
Research Question
4 27 Learning Word Forms Guasti (2004). Language Acquisition: The Growth of Grammar, Chapter 2
Saffran, Aslin, & Newport (1996): Statistical Learning by 8-Month-Old Infants
Argument Map
5 Oct 4 Learning Word Meanings Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 3
Guasti (2004). Language Acquisition: The Growth of Grammar, Chapter 3
Hespos and Spelke (2004): Conceptual precursors to language
Kaminsky et al (2004): Word Learning in a Domestic Dog
Lit Review
6 11 Learning Syntax Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 4
Guasti (2004). Language Acquisition: The Growth of Grammar, Chapter 4
Gertner, Fisher, Eisengart 2006: Abstract Knowledge of Word Order in Early Sentence Comprehension
7 18 Learning Morphology Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 5
Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 8 (optional)
Berko (1958): The Child's Learning of English Morphology
Study 1
8 25 Learning Pragmatics Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 6
Tomasello, Carpenter, and Liszkowski (2007): A new look at infant pointing
Stiller, Frank, and Goodman (2015): Ad-hoc Implicature in Preschool Children
Research Proposal
9 Nov 1 Learning to Sign Goldin-Meadow and Feldman (1977): The development of language-like communication without a language model
Meier (2016): Sign Language Acquisition
10 8 Learning two languages Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 14
de Bruin, Treccani, Della Sala (2014): Cognitive Advantage in Bilingualism. An Example of Publication Bias?
11 15 Heritage Language Acquisition Study 2
12 22 Thanksgiving
13 29 Presentations Presentation
14 Dec 6 Reading Period
15 13 Exam Period Final Paper

Textbooks and Learning Tools

Textbook Clark (2009). First Language Acquisition (2nd Edition). Cambrdige University Press. Tools Canvas, mainly for assignments.
Rowland (2014). Understanding Child Language Acquisition. Routledge.
Guasti (2004). Language Acquisition: The Growth of Grammar. MIT Press.

Course Objectives

Objective Course Component
1 understand some of the main findings and theories in language acquisition Lectures, Readings, Comprehension Forum
2 read, understand, and critically assess original research in language acquisition Readings, Argument Map, Comprehension Forum
3 collect, analyze, and present observational (corpus) data Research Project: Study 1
4 practice designing, collecting data, analyzing data, and reporting results of an experimental study Research Project: Study 2
5 sharpening writing skills to report in a clear and coherent manner Research Project: lit-review, research proposal, final paper
6 practice providing feedback in a constructive and helpful way Research Project: peer-review, presentation Q & A


Reading Skills 20% Comprehension Forum 9% Starting on week 2, submit two comprehension questions on Canvas (Discussion Section) about the week's readings by Monday before class. You can use the comprehension questions in the textbooks. By Wednesday, provide two short answers to two of the questions asked by your classmates (not your own questions). Each question should receive one answer. Make sure when you post your question, it is substantially different from what is asked by others.
Argument Map 11% Maximum one page argument map of Saffran, Aslin, & Newport (1996). This article is a good guide on how to approach scientific papers. Take a look at this sample argument map for one of the week 4 readings: Kaminsky et al (2004): Word Learning in a Domestic Dog.
Research Skills 80%
Research Question 2% In half of a page, determine a research question for your project. Make sure you narrow down your research question as much as possible. Here is a guide on how to do that. What are the potential answers to your question? How can you find out the answer using observational and experimental research? Here are some example research questions:
1. At what age do children understand and produce the words more and less? Which one is learned first?
2. At what age do children understand and produce logical connectives like and, or, if, and not?
3. Are there any gender differences in the number of words produced by children?
4. At what age do children understand and use mental state verbs like think and know?
Grading Criteria: 1. Clearly defined and narrowed down question. 2. Clear potential answers (hypotheses) to the question. 3. Clear expectations on what type of observation or experiment would provide the right answer. 4. Feasibility of the question and plans for answering it as a course project.
Literature Review 8% Write a 2 page literature review. Here is a guide on how to write a literature review. Google Scholar is quite helpful. Search relevant key terms, find a key article, look through papers it cites and papers that cite it. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask me.
Study 1: Observational (corpus) Study 10% Use a database of child langauge to do an observational study on your research question. Some suggestions include: CHILDES at or its online database CHILDES-DB at You can also use WordBank. Report these observations in 2 pages. Here is an introduction to what you can do in your observational study.
Research Proposal 10% Write a 3-page research proposal. Your proposal should have the following sections: introduction, background, corpus study, and proposal for the experimental study. It should incorporate what you have written so far: research question(s) and hypotheses (introduction), literature review (background), and observational data from CHILDES (corpus study). Also include the methods you intend to use to test your hypotheses in your experimental study (proposal for the experimental study). Determine what type of measure you will use (e.g. percentage correct response) and what type of analysis on that measure would provide an answer to your research question (e.g. if more than 50% correct then children understand the word).
Peer-Reviews 5% Write a 1-page peer-review of a research proposal assigned to you. Read the golden rule for peer-reviews here or Brian Lucey's tips on writing peer-reviews.
Study 2: Experimental Study 10% Run your experimental study with adults. Assume that you are testing adults as the control group before running children. Write a 3-page report on the methods, results, and analyses of the data.
Presentation 5% Prepare a 10 minute presentation of your research project. The last class will be dedicated to student presentations. Take a look at this guide to oral presentations.
Final Paper 30% Write a paper summarizing your research project. (6-10 pages excluding bibliography)
Late Submission Late assignments will be graded as though they were not late, but then 5% of the grade earned will be deducted for each day the assignment is late, with a maximum penalty of 50%. All late work must be turned in a week before your final paper deadline. This policy can be waived if lateness is due to medical reasons or other special circumstances. If you you believe such special circumstances apply to you, please put us in contact with your resident dean so that we can discuss the appropriate extension for you.
Submission Format Submit your assignments using Canvas. Files should be in PDF. Typed assignments should use Times New Roman (12pt), 1 inch margins, 1.5 line spacing. Do not include your name or any identifying information in the assignment. In order to avoid grading biases, assignments are graded anonymously.
Grading We use the following grading scale:
A = 100-94, A- = 93-90, B+ = 89-87, B = 86-84, B- = 83-80, C+ = 79-77, C = 76-74, C- = 73-70, D+ = 69-67, D = 66-65, E = 64-0
Integrity We follow the Academic Integrity Policy, which discusses collaboration on homework and expectations for reading responses and exams. You are permitted to work together on the assignments (but not for midterm and the final exam). However, you must write up and submit your own unique assignment.
Accessibility Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Accessible Education Office (AEO). Professional staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare a letter for the faculty. Students should contact the AEO as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations.
Participation We believe that our class benefits enormously from you sharing your thoughts and questions. Your background, life experiences, knowledge, thoughts, and ideas make you unique, and our classroom diverse. This diversity of perspectives is the foundation of learning in a classroom. At a larger scale and within a scientific community, it is also a major contributor to scientific progress. Therefore, sharing your thoughts and questions can help us learn and build a wider, stronger community of scholars.
Questions We genuinly believe that there are no stupid questions in a classroom. We are all learning together here and questions are our best tool. It is easy to show that your question will help us learn no matter what. Your question is either:
(1) not framed well; in which case you give us a chance to explain the topic better. Chances are we did not explain it well the first time and many of your classmates are wondering about it too.
(2) framed well and has an answer we know; in which case we can help you as well as your classmates who have the same question learn it too! You have also helped us consolidate our knowledge by explaining it again.
(3) framed well but has an answer we do not know; in which case we can find the answer together and your question has helped all of us learn!
(4) framed well and does not have an answer yet; in which case you found a research topic someone can start working on and benefit the field!
As you see, your question has helped our learning either way. So please ask! Please wonder!

Sometimes instructors or students worry that asking too many questions may halt class progress. Judging when to ask a question is tricky but also part of what we need to learn. This is a useful wikihow article that starts with some obvious tips but ends with really good ones! Ultimately, we trust you to decide whether asking a question is halting the class progress or not.