First steps toward a usage based theory of language acquisition

  • Tomasello M
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Abstract

Usage-based models of language focus on the specific communicative events in which people learn and use language. In these models, the psycholinguistic units with which individuals operate are determined not by theoretical fiat but by observation of actual language use in actual communicative events. This data-based approach make these models especially congenial for the analysis of children's language, since children do not learn and use the same units as adults. In this paper I employ a usage-based model of language to argue for five fundamental facts about child language acquisition: (1) the primary psycholinguistic unit of child language acquisition is the utterance, which has as its foundation the expression and understanding of communicative intentions; (2) early in their language development children are attempting to reproduce not adult words but whole adult utterances; (3) children's earliest utterances are almost totally concrete in the sense that they are instantiations of item-based schemas or constructions; (4) abstractions result from children generalizing across the type variation they observe at particular ``slots'' in otherwise recurrent tokens of the same utterance; and (5) children create novel utterances for themselves via usage-based syntactic operations in which they begin with an utterance-level schema and then modify that schema for the exigencies of the particular communicative situation (usage event) at hand.

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  • Usage based, cultural learning

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Authors

  • Michael Tomasello

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