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Usage-based approaches to language development: Where do we go from here?


In the usage-based approach to children’s language learning, language is seen as emerging from children’s preverbal communicative and cognitive skills. Children construct more abstract linguistic representations only gradually, and show uneven development in all aspects of their language learning. I will present results that show the relationship between children’s emerging linguistic structures and patterns in the speech addressed to them, and demonstrate the effects played by the consistency of markers, the complexity of the construction in question, and relative type and token frequencies within and across constructions. I highlight the contribution made by research that employs naturalistic, experimental, and modelling methodologies, and that is applied to a range of languages and to variability in the errors that children make. Finally, I will outline the outstanding issues for this approach, and how we might address them.

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Address for correspondence: ESRC Lucid child study centre, Coupland 1 building, University of Manchester, M13 9PL, UK. e-mail:
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