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Child Language Acquisition

6. Learning Words: Emergentist Approach

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In this module, we explore emergentist (or usage-based) explanations for how children learn words, focusing in particular: (i) the two guiding principles (or word learning biases) that are important in the emergentist approach: conventionality and contrast; (ii) the importance of pragmatics as well as semantics in child language acquisition; and (iii) the level of cognitive development and understanding of the world that emergentism relies on; and (iv) the extent to which language itself contributes to cognition, a concept known as linguistic relativity.


In this course, Professor Henriëtte Hendriks (University of Cambridge) provides an introduction to child language acquisition. In the first module, we provide an introduction to the study of language acquisition, before turning in the second module to explore three theories of child language acquisition: the behaviourist theory of language acquisition; the work of Noam Chomsky and the concept of universal grammar (UG); and the emergentist theory of language acquisition. In the six modules that follow, we go through each stage of language acquisition. In the third module, we explore the how children learn to segment the speech stream and begin to recognise individual sounds. In the fourth module, we think about how children start to produce sounds for themselves, and the extent to which 'babbling' is associated with language. In the fifth and sixth modules, we explore two theories for how children acquire words, before turning in the seventh module to consider the acquisition of syntax (or word order). Finally, in the eighth and ninth modules, we think about the acquisition of morphology, including the work of Roger Brown and Jean Berko's Wug Test.


Prof. Henriëtte Hendriks is Professor of Language Acquisition and Cognition at the University of Cambridge. Her principal interests are in applied- and psycholinguistics and more specifically in the interaction between language acquisition and cognition and language acquisition and culture, involving languages as different as Dutch, German, English, French, Chinese and Polish.

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APA style

Hendriks, H. (2022, April 21). Child Language Acquisition - Learning Words: Emergentist Approach [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Hendriks, H. "Child Language Acquisition – Learning Words: Emergentist Approach." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Apr 2022,

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