Could someone help me to breakdown what this question needs me to look at specifically!?

'Assess the state of language acquisition research in terms of the types of evidence that are used to support theoretical positions. (I.e., what kinds of evidence used in order to discover how children acquire language and what are its limitations?'

I'm unsure whether this question is referring to the two ways of studying children (Experimental and Naturalistic) or if its saying I need to go through both Rationalist and Empiricist theories, then give evidence for and against.

2 Answers 2


Evidence on first language acquisition can be acquired in a controlled or naturalistic setting (and in other ways too, but this is a major distinction).

In a controlled setting all factors other than the one(s) you are interested in are held constant. Participants should have the same age, sex, socio-economic background or at least you include roughly equal numbers of both sexes etc. and check whether it makes a difference. Then you present the same stimuli in the same way and see what happens, or vary them in a specific manner between gropus. From an experimental and extremely unethical point of view, the ideal experiment would be taking children a birth, assigning them to different groups and presenting each group with input that differs in some way you are interested in. Needless to say, nobody will do exactly that.

In a naturalistic setting the researcher tries to influence the result as little as possible. You try to generalise from what you see happening 'in real life' - for example that 90 % of all children acquiring English in the UK from monolingual patterns have mastered irregular past tense verbs by age 3 (I'm making up the numbers here). One problem here is that the presence of a researcher might change the outcome.


Yes,one doing what you describe has to read some classic work like Gold's Limitation in Identification of language ,which I think is very important theoretical work,and lot of linguists have found or believed that there are very little negative evidence during child acquisition of their mother tongue,combining those two ,one may conclude that faculty of language is an innate functional part of human brain.So,one have to consider those two evidence,to support or be against the conclusion.

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    I found that quite difficult to decipher, but i really do appreciate your help. Thanks
    – Katy
    Commented Aug 10, 2013 at 15:58
  • @Katy Yes,I know,cuz people majoring in linguistics or language are not familiar with mathematical knowledge and theory of machine learning that is relating to language acquisition ,moreover they usually are not familiar with psychological knowledge which I do neither.Actually the situation is disappointing and such people can not accept or even are hostile against the state of art research.You may read Language Identification in the Limit ( EM Gold - ‎1967) the classic article,I think there are a very little a mount of people here who can understand it.but every sentence and word in it is easy Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 3:36
  • Anyway,it is a very interesting forum :) Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 3:44

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