Linguistics Department

Language Acquisition

While the natural world has produced many remarkable communication systems, human languages are unique in their expressive capacity and flexibility. Most species are able to communicate a small finite set of context dependent meanings, but language users know tens of thousands of unique words and are able to put them together to produce a vast array of meanings. Other animals communicate to request, demand or inform, while humans use language for a much wider range of purposes - to persuade, to instruct, to enchant. How do children acquire such a powerful system of symbols and conventions and learn to put them to such a variety of ends? The Language Acquisition concentration area educates students in the best answers researchers have to date, and provides training in the methods required to make their own contribution to solving what is one of the most difficult and most fascinating problems in all of science.

All students interested in concentrating in this area will be expected to take courses in Language Acquisition (LIN 393) and Experimental Design and Statistical Inference (EDP 482K) or Advanced Statistics: Inferential (PSY 384M). The department also regularly offers a course on Bilingual Language Acquisition and specialist seminars on topics related to human language learning and processing.

What other courses a student takes will depend on their specific interests. Students focused on the acquisition of signed languages (a particular strength of the department) will want to select from our range of courses on the linguistics of sign. Students interested in formal theories of learning will benefit from the department's extensive offerings in Computational linguistics.  Most such students will want to take courses from the Departments of Psychology and Communication Sciences and Disorders. However, it is important to emphasize that language acquisition is not merely a specialist subtopic of the language sciences but is central to the study of all aspects of the human language faculty. Students will thus benefit from the incredible range of language related courses on offer at UT.

Finally, students studying language acquisition at UT will be expected to collect and analyze their own data for their dissertation work. In preparation for this, students will have many opportunities to gain experience in our various labs from early in their time here. This list of faculty interests should give you an idea of the opportunities available.

Faculty in the Department of Linguistics

Colin Bannard: Statistical learning of language; early social cognition and its contribution to language learning; early grammatical development; computational models of cognitive and social processes

Richard P. Meier: acquisition of signed languages as first languages; early phonological and morphological development in signing children; the linguistics of signed languages

David Quinto-Pozos: Atypical acquisition of signed language by native signing children; interaction of language and gesture in the signed modality; register variation; language contact

Faculty in Other Departments

Lisa Bedore, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

David Birdsong, Department of French and Italian

Barbara Davis, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Catharine Echols, Department of Psychology

Zenzi Griffin, Department of Psychology

Peter MacNeilage, Department of Psychology

Elizabeth Peña, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders 

Li Sheng, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders

  • Department of Linguistics

    University of Texas at Austin
    305 E. 23rd Street STOP B5100
    Robert L. Patton Hall (RLP) 4.304
    Austin, TX 78712