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Child Language Acquisition

5. Learning Words: Traditional Approach

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In this module and the following one, we think about how children learn words. Here, we explore traditional explanations for how children learn words, including: (i) the two sides to learning a word: form and meaning; (ii) the success with which children learn words: from 500-600 words by the time they are three years old to 12,000 by the end of primary school; and (iii) the four guiding principles (or word learning biases) that form part of the traditional explanation for how children learn words: the whole object assumption, the deconstruction of the meaning of words into semantic features, the taxonomic assumption, and the mutual exclusivity assumption.


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: Traditional Approach [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

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

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