ELL345 : Generative Approaches to First Language Acquisition

Convenor(s): Dr. Ayumi Matsuo


Please note: This module may or may not run in any given semester. Please check with the tutor.

General Information

This third-year module is aimed at students who have already taken Syntax 1 and preferably Syntax 2. In this course, we focus on the first language acquisition of phonetic, lexical and syntactic (and semantic) knowledge. Addressing both theoretical and methodological issues, the course explores the relationship between the logical problem of language acquisition — how very young children manage to acquire quite abstract and subtle properties of their target grammars in the absence of clear positive evidence -- and the developmental problem of acquisition — how children recover from systematic errors, and acquire subtle language-specific properties. We also explore the related tension between nativist vs. emergentist explanations for language acquisition and development.


There will be two lecture hours per week (or one lecture and one workshop), together with a set of readings (main as well as background readings) to enable better understanding of content of the lectures. Students will also attend a workshop every other week to work through exercises as well as their readings based on each week's lecture. We will discuss the answers to the exercises, construct different experimental methodologies and discuss related material to that covered in lectures, such as how results are best analyzed and interpreted (basic experimental design and statistical analysis).


The assessment will consist of 10% weekly pop-quizzes, 25% Abstract Proposal and Ethics Form, 25% in class presentation of final project, 45% Final project.

A note on CRB clearance.

For the final project, students may choose to actually carry out an experiment that they have designed with a group of young children. This is not a requirement, but it can be very rewarding aspect of the project. However, work of this kind with vulnerable populations requires, by law, prior clearance from the Criminal Records Bureau. Since an application for CRB clearance can take several weeks, students are advised to apply (through Helen Penkethman in the department office) during the previous semester. It should also be noted that the department does not have the funds to pay for these applications: the current cost is around £35. Therefore, unfortunately, if you wish to apply for clearance, you will have to pay for it yourself.

Contact Details

Dr. Ayumi Matsuo, 0114 222 0222


Information last changed: Thursday 07th of April 2016 :: 01:16:46 PM (BST)


The University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK