This introductory guide to language acquisition research is presented within the framework of Universal Grammar, a theory of the human faculty for language. The authors focus on two experimental techniques for assessing children's linguistic competence: the Elicited Production task, a production task, and the Truth Value Judgment task, a comprehension task. Their methodologies are designed to overcome the numerous obstacles to empirical investigation of children's language competence. They produce research results that are more reproducible and less likely to be dismissed as an artifact of improper experimental procedure.
In the first section of the book, the authors examine the fundamental assumptions that guide research in this area; they present both a theory of linguistic competence and a model of language processing. In the following two sections, they discuss in detail their two experimental techniques.
Part 1 The modularity matching model: constraints and universal grammar; the poverty of the stimulus; models of language development; continuity versus input matching; the competing factors model; competing tasks - reaction time studies; competing tasks - the act-out task; competing tasks - imitation; judgment tasks and competing factors; context and competing factors; language processing; extralinguistic knowledge; when principles and preferences collide; performance errors; methodological preliminaries. Part 2 The elicited production task: elicited production; eliciting relative clauses; asking questions- the "ask/tell" problem; structure-dependence; wanna contraction; long-distance questions and the medial-wh; why children make good subjects; summary of designs. Part 3 The truth value judgment task: truth value judgments; backward anaphora; fundamentals of design: principle C; what's wrong with this picture?; strong crossover; strongest crossover; principle B; following up on principle B; sets and circumstances; discourse binding; universal quantification; donkey sentences; a potential drawback of the task; resolving the dilemma - control sentences; resolving the dilemma -varying the context.