Psychology 3141F-001

Language Development

If there is a discrepancy between the outline posted below and the outline posted on the OWL course website, the latter shall prevail.


This course covers how children learn and use their first language. Major topics include the stages of language development, how these phenomena can inform theories of language representation and use in humans, the biological bases of language learning, and the relationship between first and second language learning.


Prerequisites: Psychology 2820E or both Psychology 2800E and 2810, and one of Psychology 2134A/B, 2135A/B or 2410A/B

3 lecture hours, 0.5 course


Unless you have either the prerequisites for this course or written special permission from your Dean to enroll in it, you may be removed from this course and it will be deleted from your record. This decision may not be appealed. You will receive no adjustment to your fees in the event that you are dropped from a course for failing to have the necessary prerequisites.


       Instructor:                                                     Marc Joanisse

       Office and Phone Number:                            NSC 230

       Office Hours:                                               Mondays, 1:30 pm



       Teaching Assistant:                                      Nicolette Noonan

       Office:                                                         NSC 231

       Office Hours:                                               By appointment



       Time and Location of Classes:                      Monday 2:30-4:30

                                                                          Wednesday 2:30-3:30

If you or someone you know is experiencing distress, there are several resources here at Western to assist you.  Please visit: for more information on these resources and on mental health.

Please contact the course instructor if you require material in an alternate format or if you require any other arrangements to make this course more accessible to you. You may also wish to contact Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at 519-661-2111 ext 82147 for any specific question regarding an accommodation.


Hoff, E. Language Development, 5th Edition Thomson Publishers


         There will be a copy of the textbook on reserve at Taylor Library.


Additional required readings will be assigned to supplement the book chapters, and will be made available on WebCT. These are journal articles and are intended to better familiarize students with the techniques and phenomena we will be discussing.


All required readings should be completed prior to attending class so that you arrive at class prepared to discuss the readings 


You will learn to critically evaluate current research and theory on first language learning in children. A full range of phenomena related to language learning in children will be covered, including early perception, communication, speech errors, morphosyntax, vocabulary and semantics. Throughout, there is an emphasis of situating these phenomena within theories of language, cognition and cognitive neuroscience. You will also become familiar with language disorders in children, as well as the special case of bilingualism where children are learning two or more languages. In addition to the topics covered in class, students will participate in independent data collection and data analysis projects, and will be encouraged to study a topic of their choosing (from among topics set out by the instructors) in-depth, which will form the basis for a final paper.


Learning Outcome

Learning Activities

How Assessed

Depth and Breadth of Knowledge.

Articulate the concepts and current states of knowledge in child language development


Lectures and discussion

Readings (textbook chapters and journal articles)



Knowledge of Methodologies.

Access, interpret and critically evaluate research in language development.


Formulate a research hypothesis to address a question about language development and design a study that tests this hypothesis.


Lectures and discussion

Readings (textbook chapters and journal articles) 



Final paper


Quizzes, problem sets




Final paper

Application of Knowledge.

Use evidence to support claims.


Examine how phenomena discussed in lectures/readings applies to actual children


Lectures and discussion

 Evaluate a child’s language development in an observational study


Quizzes, problem sets


Communication Skills.

Communicate in writing accurately, clearly and logically, using the discourse of the discipline of psychology


Communicate psychological knowledge in writing in a way that would be understandable to a non-specialist audience


Readings (textbook chapters and problem set)



 Project, Final paper






Project, Final paper

Autonomy and Professional Capacity.

Demonstrate initiative, personal responsibility and accountability


Optional: collecting your own observational language sample from children

Develop an experiment and related hypotheses of your own design


Project, Final paper

Final paper



There will be multiple sources of evaluation in this course:


Quizzes. These are multiple choice and short answer type quizzes, and should take 20-30 minutes to complete and will be scheduled during the tutorial period. The content will focus on the readings and lectures from previous weeks, and the purpose is to assess that you completely understand the material. Please arrive on time so you have time to complete the quiz.


Lab project. You will be asked to analyze some child language that you either collect yourself, or from videos assigned to you. The final report will be due in March.


Problem sets. These are take-home assignments in which you will be asked to analyze linguistic data. They build on concepts we have covered in the lectures and tutorials. They are 2-3 pages length and build on what you have learned in class.


Final Paper 12-15 pages in length, approx 2500-3000 words, based on a topic of your choosing, but with an assigned format. Details to follow.


Grade Breakdown

Quizzes (x4, 5% each)                            20%

Lab project                                            20%

Problem Sets (x2, 15% each)                 30%

Final Paper                                            30%

Please note that you must pass all essay components to pass the course. That is, the average mark for your written assignments (Lab Project and Final Paper) must be at least 50%.

Although the Psychology Department does not require instructors to adjust their course grades to conform to specific targets, the expectation is that course marks will be distributed around the following averages:

70%     1000-level and 2000-level courses
72%     2190-2990 level courses
75%     3000-level courses
80%     4000-level courses
The Psychology Department follows Western's grading guidelines, which are as follows (see ):

A+  90-100      One could scarcely expect better from a student at this level
A    80-89        Superior work that is clearly above average
B    70-79        Good work, meeting all requirements, and eminently satisfactory
C    60-69        Competent work, meeting requirements
D    50-59        Fair work, minimally acceptable
F    below 50    Fail


Important due dates


Quizzes: Dates are listed below

Lab Assignment: Due Nov 20. Full details will be provided soon.

Problem sets: Due dates are Oct 18 and Nov 8.

Final paper: Due in early December. Details will be provided in October.


Schedule conflicts: All dates are listed here are firm and final. Missed test dates and deadlines will not be excused. If you will be away on a due date, please make arrangements to hand it in early (or have a friend bring it in by the due date). If you plan to be away on any of the quiz dates, you will need to verify this is a valid excused absence through Academic Advising.







September 11



September 13

Introduction to the Study of Language Development


(No Tutorial Today)


Hoff Ch 1


September 18





September 20

Biological Bases

Language as a biological phenomenon; language and the brain; critical periods, genetics




Hoff Ch 2


September 25




September 27


Communicative Development

Intentionality; communicative function; conversational skill; sociolinguistics


Quiz 1


Hoff Ch 3


October 2




October 4

Phonological Development 1

Perception in infancy; learning the sounds of language




Hoff Ch 4 (135-162)
Saffran (2003)


October 9-13

Fall Break Week



October 16




October 18

Phonological Development 2

Motor development, production errors, early lexical development




Hoff Ch 4 (pp. 162-180)
Hoff article (2008)




October 23



October 25

Lexical Development

Learning about words, building a vocabulary


Quiz 2


Hoff Ch 5

Swingley & Aslin (2002)


October 30



November 1

Semantic Memory

Learning concepts and categories



Gentner (1978)


November 6




November 8

Grammar Development

Learning about the structure of words and sentences


(No Tutorial Today)


Hoff Ch 6


November 13


November 15

Deafness and Sign Language


Quiz 3


Senghas (1995)


November 20



November 22


Language Disorders – language/cognition dissociations



Hoff Ch 10

Bishop (2006)


November 27



November 29

Reading ability and disability

Learning to read; dyslexia




Shaywitz et al. (2017) Treiman (2000)


December 4




December 6



Learning two languages at once; learning a second language


Quiz 4


Hoff Ch 8

Biyalistok & Craik (2010)


Students are responsible for understanding the nature and avoiding the occurrence of plagiarism and other scholastic offenses. Plagiarism and cheating are considered very serious offenses because they undermine the integrity of research and education. Actions constituting a scholastic offense are described at the following link:

As of Sept. 1, 2009, the Department of Psychology will take the following steps to detect scholastic offenses. All multiple-choice tests and exams will be checked for similarities in the pattern of responses using reliable software, and records will be made of student seating locations in all tests and exams. All written assignments will be submitted to TurnItIn, a service designed to detect and deter plagiarism by comparing written material to over 5 billion pages of content located on the Internet or in TurnItIn’s databases. All papers submitted for such checking will be included as source documents in the reference database for the purpose of detecting plagiarism of papers subsequently submitted to the system. Use of the service is subject to the licensing agreement, currently between Western and

Possible penalties for a scholastic offense include failure of the assignment, failure of the course, suspension from the University, and expulsion from the University.


Western’s policy on Accommodation for Medical Illness can be found at: 

Students must see the Academic Counsellor and submit all required documentation in order to be approved for certain accommodation:


Office of the Registrar web site:

Student Development Services web site:

Please see the Psychology Undergraduate web site for information on the following:

- Policy on Cheating and Academic Misconduct
- Procedures for Appealing Academic Evaluations
- Policy on Attendance
- Policy Regarding Makeup Exams and Extensions of Deadlines
- Policy for Assignments
- Short Absences
- Extended Absences
- Documentation
- Academic Concerns
- 2017 Calendar References

No electronic devices, including cell phones and smart watches, will be allowed during exams.