Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition by Michael TomaselloConstructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition by Michael Tomasello

Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition

byMichael Tomasello

Paperback | March 31, 2005

Pricing and Purchase Info

$41.23 online 
$42.50 list price
Earn 206 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


Ships within 3-5 weeks

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


In this groundbreaking book, Michael Tomasello presents a comprehensive usage-based theory of language acquisition. Drawing together a vast body of empirical research in cognitive science, linguistics, and developmental psychology, Tomasello demonstrates that we don't need a self-contained "language instinct" to explain how children learn language. Their linguistic ability is interwoven with other cognitive abilities.

Tomasello argues that the essence of language is its symbolic dimension, which rests on the uniquely human ability to comprehend intention. Grammar emerges as the speakers of a language create linguistic constructions out of recurring sequences of symbols; children pick up these patterns in the buzz of words they hear around them.

All theories of language acquisition assume these fundamental skills of intention-reading and pattern-finding. Some formal linguistic theories posit a second set of acquisition processes to connect somehow with an innate universal grammar. But these extra processes, Tomasello argues, are completely unnecessary--important to save a theory but not to explain the phenomenon.

For all its empirical weaknesses, Chomskian generative grammar has ruled the linguistic world for forty years. Constructing a Language offers a compellingly argued, psychologically sound new vision for the study of language acquisition.

Michael Tomasello is Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He is the author of First Verbs and the coauthor of Primate Cognition.
Title:Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language AcquisitionFormat:PaperbackDimensions:408 pages, 8.81 × 5.69 × 1 inPublished:March 31, 2005Publisher:HarvardLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0674017641

ISBN - 13:9780674017641

Look for similar items by category:


Table of Contents

  • 1. A Puzzle and a Hypothesis
  • 2. Biological and Cultural Inheritance
  • 3. Joint Attention and Cultural Learning
  • 4. Linguistic Communication and Symbolic Representation
  • 5. Linguistic Constructions and Event Cognition
  • 6. Discourse and Representational Redescription
  • 7. Cultural Cognition
  • References
  • Index

Editorial Reviews

Tomasello offers an extended and detailed exposition of his 'usage-based' theory of language acquisition, which he contrasts to nativist or 'universal grammar' theories such as those of Noam Chomsky and of Steven Pinker...Throughout this masterfully written but stylistically and intellectually dense book, Tomasello reports extensively on current research and looks critically at the assumptions and assertions of his contemporaries.