Theories of language learning (2016/2017)

Course code
Name of lecturers
Chiara Melloni, Serena Dal Maso
Chiara Melloni
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
Sem. IB, Sem. IIA

Lesson timetable

Learning outcomes

The course is aimed to get the students acquainted with some basic topics in first language acquisition by monolingual, typically and atypically developing children. The students will be introduced to the main issues of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and to some of the theories proposed to explain it.

The course will be held in ENGLISH.


This course in organized in two parts, dealing with different topics and having a different practical organization (see the COURSE NEWS).
The first part (prof. Melloni, semester IB, 36 hours) introduces the students to the phenomenon of first language acquisition by monolingual, typically developing children. The course will cover specific aspects of language acquisition (phonology, lexicon, morpho-syntax) from newborn’s first steps in sound perception to the articulated morphosyntactic competence of children of five/six years of age. Furthermore, a guest teacher, prof. Theodoros Marinis (Reading, UK) will present the students with key issues in atypical language development (classes will be held in December).

The second part of the course (prof. Dal Maso, semester IIA, 18 hours) will deal with Second Language Acquisition and Learning and with the more recent theories proposed to explain the acquisition processes. We will particularly focus on the psycholinguistic experimental research conducted on the processing of morphologically complex words in L2. Main results and theoretical implications will be discussed.

Main bibliographic references (check the relevant files on the e-learning website)

On L1 acquisition (prof.ssa Melloni):
Book chapters:
Guasti, Maria Teresa (2002/2004). Language Acquisition, The Growth of Grammar. Cambridge (MA), The Mit Press. (1-4 and 11).
Fernandez, E. M. & H. S. Cairns. 2010. Fundamentals of Psycholinguistics. Wiley-Blackwell. Chapters: 1. 2. 4.

Bonatti, Luca et al. (2005). "Linguistic constraints on statistical computations the role of consonants and vowels in continuous speech processing." Psychological Science 16.6: 451-459.
Kuhl, P. (2004). Early language acquisition: cracking the speech code. NATURE REVIEWS | NEUROSCIENCE.
Saffran, Jenny R. (2002). “Constraints on Statistical Language Learning”. Journal of Memory and Language 47, 172–196 (2002).
Waxman, Sandra R., and Raquel S. Klibanoff (2000). "The role of comparison in the extension of novel adjectives." Developmental psychology 36.5.

On L2 acquisition (prof.ssa Dal Maso):
VanPatten B. & Williams J. (2015), Theories in Second Language Acquisition. An Introduction, London/ New York, Routledge.
VanPatten B. & Benati A. (2010), Key Terms in Second Language Acquisition, London/ New York, Continuum International Publishing Group. (Specific chapters will be indicated during the course).

Non-attending students can find a detailed program on the e-learning page linked to this course.

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note
Guasti, Maria Teresa Language Acquisition: The growth of Grammar MIT Press 2002

Assessment methods and criteria

written and oral exam