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J Psycholinguist Res. 2006 Jan;35(1):31-49.

Language acquisition is language change.

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  • 1Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. scrain@maccs.mq.edu.au

Abstract

According to the theory of Universal Grammar, the primary linguistic data guides children through an innately specified space of hypotheses. On this view, similarities between child-English and adult-German are as unsurprising as similarities between cousins who have never met. By contrast, experience-based approaches to language acquisition contend that child language matches the input, with nonadult forms being simply less articulated versions of the forms produced by adults. This paper reports several studies that provide support for the theory of Universal grammar, and resist explanation on experience-based accounts. Two studies investigate English-speaking children's productions, and a third examines the interpretation of sentences by Japanese speaking children. When considered against the input children are exposed to, the findings of these and other studies are consistent with the continuity hypothesis, which supposes that child language can differ from the language spoken by adults only in ways that adult languages can differ from each other.

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