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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: August 2019

17 - Language acquisition

from Part 6 - ‘Language is the dress of thought’: language, mind and world


With each newly learned language you acquire a new soul.

Slovakian proverb


Research in the area of language acquisition is concerned with questions about how children develop skills in using language. This research is a great example of an area in which linguistics makes a contribution, interwoven with fields of research such as anthropology, cognitive science, education, neuroscience and psychology. It is concerned with the acquisition of both first and second languages by monolingual and bilingual speakers and by speakers showing both typical and atypical pathways of acquisition. Across these different populations, language acquisition research is concerned with how all aspects of language are acquired: from sound segments through word choice to increasingly complex grammatical structures, the ability to interpret meanings that are only implied, or to construct extended narratives in culturally recognised structures.

Findings from research on language acquisition can be applied in domains like education and in a range of disciplines concerned with early childhood development more broadly. Debates in this area also have connections with our understanding of the evolution of language since any account of language acquisition also has to map coherently onto our understandings of how language in the brain works more generally (see Chapter 16).