Ling 140: Learning to Speak


Course Info

Instructor Masoud Jasbi Details 4 Units Mon, Wed
Office Hours: Mon 4:20-5 and by appointment via email. 3:00-4:20pm
Room 122, Margaret Jacks Hall (Bldg. 460) 460-126 (Margaret Jacks Hall)


Week Month Date Topic Reading Assignments
1 April 2 Science, Language, and Learning Paul Bloom's Lecture at Yale (2008): How We Communicate (Link to the Video)
4 Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 1
Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 1
2 9 Learning Sounds Kuhl (2004): Early Language Acquisition: Cracking the Speech Code
Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 3
11 Moon, Lagercrantz, and Kuhl (2013): Language experienced in utero affects vowel perception after birth Research Question
3 16 Breaking the Speech Stream (Abdellah Fourtassi) Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 2
18 Breaking the Speech Stream Saffran, Aslin, & Newport (1996): Statistical Learning by 8-Month-Old Infants Argument Map
4 23 Learning Word Meaning Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 6
25 Hespos and Spelke (2004): Conceptual precursors to language
Kaminsky et al (2004): Word Learning in a Domestic Dog
Lit Review
5 30 Learning Syntax Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 4
Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 7
May 2 Gertner, Fisher, Eisengart 2006: Abstract Knowledge of Word Order in Early Sentence Comprehension Study 1
6 7 Learning Morphology Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 5
Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 8
9 Berko (1958): The Child's Learning of English Morphology Research Proposal
7 14 Learning to Communicate (Manuel Bohn) Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 6
Tomasello, Carpenter, and Liszkowski (2007): A new look at infant pointing
16 Learning Gricean Pragmatics Stiller, Frank, and Goodman (2015): Ad-hoc Implicature in Preschool Children
8 21 Learning to Sign (Kyle MacDonald) Goldin-Meadow and Feldman (1977): The development of language-like communication without a language model
Meier (2016): Sign Language Acquisition
23 Learning two languages (Eve Clark) Clark (2009): First Language Acquisition, Chapter 14
9 28 Memorial Day (No Class)
30 Learning two languages (Eve Clark) de Bruin, Treccani, Della Sala (2014): Cognitive Advantage in Bilingualism. An Example of Publication Bias? Study 2 Report
10 June 4 Why only us? Rowland (2014): Understanding Language Acquisition, Chapter 9
6 Presentations Presentation (Paper Due June 11)

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 8% 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. On Wednesdays we will dedicate 20 minutes to the discussion of the questions and the answers.
Argument Map 12% 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 3 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. (Due: June 11, 6-10 pages excluding bibliography)
Attendance Students ought to attend all sessions. Students who miss more than 5 sessions lose 10% of the final grade. Absence due to exceptional circumstances or with instructor permission not included. See Stanford policy on attendance and absence.
Late Assignments All deadlines are hard deadlines. No credit will be given for late assignments, except in cases of serious illness, family crisis, other exceptional extenuating circumstances, or with instructor permission.
Assignment Submission All assignments should be written in Times New Roman (12pt), 1 inch margins, 1.5 line spacing. Do not include your name or any identifying information in the assignment. Submit your assignments using Canvas. In order to avoid grading biases, assignments are graded anonymously on canvas.
Grade Scale We use the following grading scale:
0-60(F) - 63(D-) - 67(D) - 70(D+) - 73(C-) - 77(C) - 80(C+) - 83(B-) - 87(B) - 90(B+) - 93(A-) - 97(A) - 100(A+)
Honor Code We follow Stanford University's Honor Code. You are encouraged to work together and discuss all assignments. However, all assignments must be written up and submitted as the student's own original work.
Students with Documented Disabilities Students who may need an academic accommodation based on the impact of a disability must initiate the request with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE). Professional staff will evaluate the request with required documentation, recommend reasonable accommodations, and prepare an Accommodation Letter for faculty dated in the current quarter in which the request is being made. Students should contact the OAE as soon as possible since timely notice is needed to coordinate accommodations. The OAE is located at 563 Salvatierra Walk (phone: 723-1066).