MA Linguistics

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
First and Second Language Acquisition

Unit code LELA61111
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Linguistics & English Language
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course unit covers the fundamentals of human language acquisition. Using Spanish as a point of reference, language is examined for the insight it provides into what it means to be human. Interdisciplinary in nature, this unit also investigates the broad issue of bilingualism, with special reference to English and Spanish, alongside the implications of language acquisition research for second-/foreign-language teaching and learning.



-          To introduce students to the interdisciplinary study of human language acquisition, through the reading and discussion of seminal works.

-          To provide students with the basic linguistic tools necessary to describe and analyse linguistic data.

-          To engage students in the longstanding debate over nature-nurture, with special attention to language (is the capacity for language inbuilt or learnt?), in order to assess the strength of the arguments for each position.

                -          To help students assimilate the basic concepts that play a role in current theoretical frameworks aimed at                  explaining the processes of language development.

                -          To allow students to establish a connection between theoretical research and pedagogical practice in the                 language classroom.

                -          To enable students to use their knowledge of linguistics to facilitate the process of teaching and learning a                 language, with special attention to Spanish.

               -          To help raise awareness of language diversity and multilingualism in a global world.

               -          To help students develop the ability to work independently on topics related to the acquisition/learning of                language, as well as develop argumentation and presentation skills, both orally and in written form, about the                      major critical areas of the discipline.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

(see below for outcomes arranged by knowledge and understanding; intellectual skills; practical skills; and peripheral/transferrable skills)


Week 1


Course introduction – Myths and realities about human language; introduction to linguistics


Week 2


The basics of linguistics


Week 3


Human language: learned, innate or both? The millenary nature vs. nurture debate


Week 4


Language as an instinct I: features found across all languages, child language acquisition, and a mind equipped for language


Week 5


Language as an instinct II: ‘deadline’ for acquiring a language during childhood; the mystery of language evolution; language in extraordinary circumstances: pidgins and creoles; and sign languages


Week 6


Acquiring Spanish as a First Language: how children acquire subjects


Week 7


Bilingualism: types of bilingualism; heritage speakers


Week 8


Acquiring Spanish in a bilingual context from childhood


Week 9


Acquiring Spanish as a Second Language during adulthood


Week 10


Bridging the gap between theory and practice: linguistics in the Second Language classroom; errors in the acquisition of a Second Language


Week 11


Review for the final exam and miscellanea

Teaching and learning methods



Oral presentation (in groups), which in addition to being summative, will also be formative for the final exam/paper

Readings provided in .pdf format on Blackboard


Office hours

(For PG): extra meeting times to be arranged to discuss final essays and presentations

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of the semester, you will have:

-          assimilated basic concepts in modern linguistics from reading seminal works in the realm of language acquisition, with an emphasis on Spanish;

-          assimilated the basic concepts that play a role in current theoretical frameworks aimed at explaining the processes of language development;

-          developed critical awareness with regard to the weight of the arguments provided by scientific research to date, as well as the scope and limitations of the different theoretical proposals in the field;

-          developed the ability to work on topics pertaining to the acquisition/learning of the Spanish language;

acquired the ability to design and carry out a small-scale project on the acquisition of Spanish as a first or second language.

Intellectual skills

The successful completion of this unit will enable you to develop:

-          analytical skills and the ability to deal with abstract concepts;

-          the ability to empirically test abstract ideas in linguistics;

-          argumentation and presentation skills, both orally and in written form, about the major critical areas of the discipline;

-          problem-posing and problem-solving skills;

-          the ability to obtain additional information about relevant topics;

-          critical awareness;

                  -        creativity and originality of thinking.

Practical skills

By completing this course unit, you will:


-          be able to analyse child and adult (Spanish) data;

-          use library, electronic and online resources effectively;

-          critically read and critique existing literature;

-          improve the teaching and learning of foreign/second languages by becoming more linguistically informed;

                 -       be able to propose and conduct a pilot or pseudo experiment testing a theoretical proposal by using                              existing published data.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

This unit will enable you to acquire and/or further develop:

-          information-retrieval skills, including the ability to obtain additional information about relevant topics;

-          the ability to apply analytical skills to everyday problems;

-          oral and written presentation skills;

-          argumentation skills;

-          critical awareness;

                  -         awareness of linguistic diversity in a global world.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%

Feedback methods

-          Feedback during seminars in class and after presentations.

-          Office hours and email consultation throughout the semester.

Meetings during office hours to discuss the final paper throughout the semester; annotated paper outline/draft.

Recommended reading



Bickerton, D 1984. The language bioprogram hypothesis. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 7:173-221.

Bickerton, D. 2010. Creoles. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

Bley-Vroman, R. 1990. The Logical Problem of Foreign Language Learning. Linguistic Analysis 21: 3-47.

Carreira, M. 2012. Spanish as a Heritage Language. En The Handbook of Hispanic Linguistics, J. I. Hualde, A. Olarrea, and E. O’Rourke (eds.), 765-782. Cambridge, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Collentine, J. 2010. The Acquisition and Teaching of the Spanish Subjunctive. An Update on Current Findings. Hispania 93:39-51.

Corder, S. P. 1981. Error analysis and interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Crain, S., y D. Lillo-Martin. 1999. An Introduction to Linguistic Theory and Language Acquisition. Oxford: Blackwell.

DeGraff, M. 2010. Parameter-Setting Approaches to Acquisition, Creolization, and Diachrony. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

Ferguson, C.A. 1959. Diglossia. Word 15: 325-340.

Fernández, S. 1997. Interlengua y análisis de errores en el aprendizaje del español como lengua extranjera. Madrid: Edelsa.

Fishman, J.A. 1967. Bilingualism with and without diglossia; diglossia with and without bilingualism. Journal of Social Issues 23(2): 29-38.

Frazier, L. 2010. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

Hockett, C. 1963. The problem of universals in language. In Greenberg, J. (ed.), Universals of language (2nd. ed.) (pp. 1-29). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Hualde, J. I., Escobar, A. Olarrea, A. y Travis, C. 2010. Introducción a la lingüística hispánica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hulst, H. van der. 2008. A Mind for Language. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall Hunt.

Johnson, J. y E. Newport. 1989. Critical Period Effects in Second Language Learning: The Influence of Maturational State in the Acquisition of English as a Second Language. Cognitive Psychology 21:60-99.

Liceras, J. 1996. La adquisición de lenguas segundas y la gramática universal. Madrid: Síntesis.

Marcus, G. 2010. Poverty of the Stimulus Arguments. In MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences (MITECS).

Marian, V. y A. Shook. 2012. The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual.

Montrul, S. 2004. The Acquisition of Spanish. Morphosyntactic Development in Monolingual and Bilingual L1 Acquisition and in Adult L2 Acquisition. [Series on Language Acquisition and Language Disorders]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Montrul, S. 2008. Incomplete Acquisition in Bilingualism. Re-examining the Age Factor. [Series on Studies in Bilingualism]. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Montrul, S. 2012. Theoretical Perspectives in the L2 Acquisition of Spanish. In The Handbook of Hispanic Linguistics, J. I. Hualde, A. Olarrea, and E. O’Rourke (eds.), 747-764. Cambridge, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell.

Scheduled activity hours Lectures 2 Seminars 1

Independent study hours
Independent study 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Julio Villa-Garcia Unit coordinator

Additional notes



The study of linguistics enables students to apply their mastery of the discipline and the skills acquired (see above) to a number of areas, including (but not limited to):


-          the teaching and learning of foreign languages in an increasingly bilingual world (not only Spanish, but also English, through comparison of the two languages; the importance of linguistically informed foreign-language teachers). In this regard, the study of linguistics enhances the improvement of one’s own language skills (awareness of sentence structure, knowledge of the sound system of the language; appropriateness of language utterance in real-world situations, i.e., discourse, etc.);

-          translation (emphasis on comparative linguistics; metalinguistic awareness; lexical accuracy; eye for detail);

-          editing (attention to detail; sentence structure);

-          proofreading (attention to detail; spelling-to-sound correspondences);

-          awareness of the pillars of bilingualism, crucial in an increasingly multilingual society;

-          application to literary analysis (the importance of the form of literary texts);

linguistic analysis (Google®, etc.).

Return to course details