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The process whereby a child takes in linguistic information unconsciously and internalises it, using it later when he/she wishes to speak the language in question — his/her native language. This narrower, linguistic definition restricts acquisition to the period of childhood. Acquisition is unconscious, largely unguided and shows a high degree of completeness compared to second language learning.



One of the main schools of thought in 20th century psychology which maintains that language acquisition proceeds by imitation. It contrasts with nativism which assumes that knowledge of language is innate, the view behind the generative grammar view of language acquisition.


critical period

A period in early childhood in which language acquisition is most effective (roughly the first 6 years). If exposure to a language begins considerably later then acquisition rarely results in native-like competence. The watershed for successful natural language acquisition is puberty after which it is nearly always incomplete.


first language

The language which is acquired initially by a child and which is his/her native language. For bilinguals another language may be acquired more or less simultaneously though a situation in which two languages are absolutely equal does not probably exist.


innateness hypothesis

In language acquisition studies, the notion that children are born with a predisposition to learn language. It contrasts explicitly with the notion that knowledge of language is gained by experience (a view typical of behaviourism in psychology).



A term referring to unconscious knowledge about his/her native language which a speaker has. Intuition is used frequently when speakers are asked to judge the grammaticality of sentences.


language acquisition

The process by which children acquire knowledge about their native language in their early childhood. Acquisition is distinguished from learning which refers to gaining knowledge of a second language in later life.


language acquisition device

A postulated pre-disposition for learning language which all humans are born with and which enables any child to learn any language in a remarkably short period of time. According to this view, the LAD consists of the structural features which are common to all languages and specific to none.



A phenomenon in first language acquisition where the child uses a narrow term in a very general sense, e.g. calling all males 'papa'.



The study of language with reference to human psychology. The term has come to refer in particular to processes of language acquisition, especially of one's first language.



Psycholinguistics is the study of language is relation to our cognition and in particular to the way we acquire our first language.