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The study and explanation of language acquisition has been approached from four major theoretical viewpoints. 1) The syntactic: what a child is mainly learning is grammatical structures, and the syntactic complexity of the language he is learning determines the sequence of acquisition; 2) The semantic: the child is really learning the meaning structures of language, and the semantic complexity of the adult language determines the sequence of acquisition; 3) The cognitive: as the child gains knowledge about the world around him, he tries to express it through language; the child's cognitive structures and therefore the major determinants of what he will express in language; 4) The social or pragmatic: since language communication is the major method of human interaction, the child learns language through social interaction with others; therefore the functions that language serves for the child in actual situations determine his language development. When the many studies already done are examined together, it becomes clear that no one of these explanation types is adequate by itself. All four are claimed to be necessary to a theory of language acquisition. Therefore the role of each needs to be determined, so that progress can be made toward a complete theoretical framework for language acquisition.

Document Type




Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Anthropology

First Committee Member (Chair)

Bernard Spolsky

Second Committee Member

Philip K. Bock

Third Committee Member

Ellen S. Kaufman

Included in

Anthropology Commons