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Call for papers – Rivista italiana di filosofia del linguaggio

Issue n. 4, December 2011: Language acquisition

edited by Anna De Marco

Language acquisition is one of the best examples of the necessity of a multidisciplinary approach to the study of human language as it is represented by cognitive sciences. Social, cognitive and motor skills accompanying the development of linguistic systems and the development of a particular language by children cannot be considered independent from one another. The reflection on the development of linguistic categories in the child first grammar raises important issues which can be summarized as follows:

a.  Do children grammars differ from adult grammar models? If they do, in what do they differ?

b.  What the evolution of such grammars into adult grammars consists of?

c.  What is present, in the child’s mind, when the acquisition process begins?

d. Which mechanisms are used in the course of the acquisition process ?

e.  What type of input drives the learning system from the initial phases to the more advanced ones?

  1. Do children rest on the gradual knowledge of social conventions or do they engage in a structural sophisticated analysis?

g.  Is it reasonable to assume that different processes are in place during acquisition (Bloom, 1994), for vocabulary, syntax, morphology, and that they are somehow related to each other?

Over the past fifty years different theoretical approaches have emerged in the study of child language, and they have been in opposition to the trend of nativist linguistic acquisitional studies. They start off from different premises as they focus on the variety of aspects characterizing the development of language. The theories that have come out of the chomskian revolution can be divided in two big groups: inside-out and out-side in theories (Hirsh-Pasek and Golingoff, 1999). They mainly differ in the role they assign to the environment to which the child is exposed and to the cognitive structures involved in the learning process. According to the first group of theories, the complexity and specificity of language cannot be accounted for without an assumption of innate  constraints on the language faculty. On the other hand, the second group of theories begins with the premise that the child would apply general cognitive principles to the acquisitional task, following a bottom up approach. Therefore linguistic categories are not given to a child a priori but they are gradually constructed on the basis of an exchange between general predispositions and the stimulus connected to the linguistic input. These approaches assign to the child the so called ‘domain-general’ linguistic competence giving much emphasis to the process of grammar construction rather than to its discovery.

When the matter is to establish what there is in a child’s mind when the acquisition process starts, both theories consider the child sensitive and competent in detecting a number of linguistic units (nouns, verbs, phrases) and their potential distribution. Nevertheless, the problem faced by some of the theories belonging to both approaches (in the inside-out theories there is a problem of finding a correlation between local and universal structures), is to explain how the child passes from a kind of linguistic system based on social and cognitive categories (semantic categories) to an adult linguistic system based on abstract syntactic categories. We are still left then with the problem of discontinuity between cognitive and linguistic structures.

This problematic aspect of discontinuity leads some theories, i.e. functionalist theories, to assume that the mechanisms used during the acquisition process are in some way related to pure linguistic constraints such as “look at the flexional morphemes” or to more general mechanisms as “pay attention to word order” (Slobin, 1985). Therefore any possible linguistic, semantic, syntactic, prosodic clue and their interaction contribute to boost the child linguistic system forward to a gradual development. For this reason, it is plausible to assume that formal concepts can develop from more general cognitive notions.

The array of different theories illustrated so far are polarized in terms of precise dichotomies: innate/acquired, prerequisites of a structural/cognitive and social kind, acquisition process domain-specific/general, oriented to the process/structure. Nevertheless, as  Hirsh-Pasek and Golingoff suggest, there seems to be a sort of continuity in the proposed dichotomies and the difference seems to lie in the degree of such continuity rather than in the nature of the positions claimed by the different approaches.


The review on language acquisition will focus on the most general questions as well as on the following topics:

Language and cognition

Language and theories of mind

Ontogenesis and phylogenesis

Acquisition of linguistic systems and subsystems

Language acquisition and sign language

Language acquisition and language disorders

Experimental methodologies for data elicitation and analysis

Language acquisition and linguistic theories

Second language acquisition

Bilingual acquisition


Bloom, P. (1984), Language Acquisition, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass.

De Marco A. (2005), Acquisire secondo natura. Lo sviluppo della morfologia in italiano, Franco Angeli.

Hirsh-Pasek K. e Michnick Golingoff R. (1996), The origins of grammar,Evidence from Early Language Comprehension, MIT Press, Cambridge Mass.

Pinker, S. (1995) Why the child holded the baby rabbits: A case study in language acquisition. In L. Gleitman, & M. Liberman (Eds.),Invitation to Cognitive Science, 2nd Edition. Volume 1: Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Slobin, D. I. (1985), “Crosslinguistic evidence for the language-making capacity”, in Slobin, D. I. (ed.). The Crosslinguistic Study of Language Acquisition, Vol. 2. Theoretical Issues. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1157–1256.

Tomasello, M. (2005), Constructing a language, Harvard University Press


The manuscripts should have a theoretical rather than an experimental focus. Papers from the following areas are accepted: philosophy of language, semiotics, and history of philosophy, anthropology, sociology and social sciences, psychology, neuroscience.

Submissions may be in Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Russian. All submissions must be prepared for blind review. The author's name, the institutional affiliation and the title’s paper must be placed in a separate file.  Papers must be sent as Microsoft Word file (.doc or .rtf) to:

Instructions for authors:

Max length:
40000 characters (including spaces) for articles (including the references) and reviews;
20000 characters (including spaces) for interviews;
10000 characters (including spaces) for specific paper review.

Submission deadline: November 2, 2011
Notification of acceptance: December 1, 2011
Final version: December 21, 2011
Issue publication: December 2011

For further informations: