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Book Chapter

The usage-based theory of language acquisition


Tomasello,  Michael       
Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Tomasello, M. (2009). The usage-based theory of language acquisition. In Edith L. Bavin (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of child language (pp. 69-87). Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511576164.005.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-000F-FAB6-1
This chapter provides a synoptic account of the usage-based approach to language acquisition, in both its functional and grammatical dimensions. It investigates how children extract words from utterances and, at the same time, how they find analogical patterns across utterances and thereby abstract meaningful grammatical constructions. From the point of view of linguistic form, the utterance-level constructions underlying children's earliest multi-word utterances come in three types: word combinations, pivot schemas, and item-based constructions. Item-based constructions go beyond pivot schemas in having syntactic marking as an integral part of the construction. More formally oriented theorists object on a number of grounds to this usage based, item-based approach to child language acquisition. All of this is done with general cognitive processes, and universals of linguistic structure derive from the fact that people everywhere have the same set of general cognitive processes.