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Child Language Acquisition

4. Syntax

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In this module, we think about how children learn the rules of syntax that govern their native language, and how we can test for that understanding, focusing in particular on: (i) what we mean when we talk about syntax; (ii) the importance of word order in English – compare ‘the dog bites the man’ to ‘the man bites the dog’; (iii) two accounts of how children learn the syntactical rules of a language; (iv) the different ways of testing for syntactical understanding, including production studies with novel verbs, production studies with novel verbs and unusual syntax, act-out studies, and preferential looking studies; and (v) our current understanding of the extent to which children have an innate sense of syntax based on these studies.


In this course, Professor Ben Ambridge (University of Liverpool) explores childhood language acquisition. In the first module, we explore how children learn to distinguish the basic sounds (phonemes) that make up their mother tongue. In the second module, we think about how children learn new words, before turning in the third module to explore how children learn the rules of morphology – and how we can test for that understanding. In the fourth module, we think about how children learn the rules of syntax, before moving on in the fifth module to a general timeline of child language acquisition from the middle of the second trimester to five years old.


Professor Ben Ambridge is Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of Liverpool. His research focuses on children's first language acquisition, mostly using judgment and production methodologies. He is particularly interested in children's errors involving question formation (e.g., *What he doesn't like?) and verb argument structure overgeneralization errors (e.g., *The joked giggled him; *I falled over). Among many academic publications, he is also the author of the popular science book Psy-Q, Are You Smarter than a Chimpanzee? (2014).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Ambridge, B. (2021, January 05). Child Language Acquisition - Syntax [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ambridge, Ben. "Child Language Acquisition – Syntax." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 05 Jan 2021,

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