Language Learning

Amy Paugh

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:
Language Learning


The study of language learning is central to understanding how children learn to communicate and become competent members of their communities and social worlds. It is basic to the study of what it means to be human. As such, the body of research on this topic spans multiple disciplines including linguistics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, human development, education, applied linguistics, speech-language pathology, and neuroscience. It entails studies of the acquisition of first and second (third, etc.) languages in monolingual and bi/multilingual contexts, and both typical and atypical language development. Theories and methods used to study this phenomenon vary across academic disciplines. Linguistic and psychological approaches to first-language acquisition have focused more heavily on cognitive processes and development, while research from anthropological and sociolinguistic perspectives tends to examine learning language in its social and cultural context. These differing orientations are reflected in the terms used to refer to the process, for example, language acquisition or language development in linguistic and psychological approaches and language socialization in anthropological approaches. Much research on first-language acquisition has been carried out on English-speaking North American and European populations, but recent years have witnessed increasing analysis of cross-linguistic and cross-cultural data. Studies range in focus, examining theoretical claims or the acquisition of particular linguistic features such as phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. Researchers investigate the influences on language learning and seek to illuminate the relations of language to human development, cognitive processes, and/or culture. Normally developing children worldwide evidence a high degree of similarity in early language learning; thus it has been possible to summarize general developmental sequences. One of the most fundamental points of rigorous debate concerns the degree of influence played by innate genetic predispositions or mechanisms of language (“nature”) versus the role of the social environment and language(s) children are exposed to (“nurture”). Spurred by this and other debates, the field has exploded since the 1960s. The literature is extensive and multidisciplinary, with each area often very specialized. This bibliography covers a wide range of perspectives, including research that falls on all points of the nature-nurture continuum, but focuses primarily on early childhood and confines itself to reviews, primary case studies, and foundational publications on child language learning in each tradition. The article was compiled with research assistance from Divya Ganesan at James Madison University.

Article.  13608 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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