XSL Content

The acquisition of morphosyntax

General details of the subject

Face-to-face degree course

Description and contextualization of the subject

This course is offered the first semester of the MA program. It aims to present the fundamental concepts of second language acquisition (SLA). Specifically as they apply to the acquisition of the morphosyntax of English as a non-native language. It is offered in the first quarter. The main objectives of the classes will be the following:

(i) familiarize you with two theoretical perspectives within the formal and the functional

tradition in the study of non-native systems,

(ii) analyze and understand the basic ideas in the Universal Grammar (UG) and the interactionist

approaches to non-native language acquisition,

(iii) present the major methodological tools used in each of the approaches,

(iv) provide a strong knowledge basis to allow you to further study some of the issues presented

in your final research paper (12 credits)

For the practical component of the course, you will be required to do an oral presentation of an article related to any of the topics dealt with in the program. As will be explained the first day of class, articles may be selected from the following journals (all of them at the university library): Applied Linguistics, International Review of Applied Linguistics, Language Awareness, Language Learning, Language Teaching Research, Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, Second Language Research, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, System, TESOL Quarterly and The Language Learning Journal. With previous approval from the instructor, you may also present articles from other indexed journals or chapters from books which have been a key contribution to the field. Guidelines on how to present a seminar paper will be provided. Homework will be assigned throughout the course and will be returned the following week with the necessary comments. Students are encouraged to ask questions about those corrections during office hours.

Teaching staff

NameInstitutionCategoryDoctorTeaching profileAreaE-mail
GARCIA MAYO, MARIA DEL PILARUniversity of the Basque CountryProfesorado Catedratico De UniversidadDoctorNot bilingualEnglish

Study types

TypeFace-to-face hoursNon face-to-face hoursTotal hours
Applied classroom-based groups02525

Training activities

NameHoursPercentage of classroom teaching
Evaluation tests1.0100 %
Expository presentation of the contents and discussion10.0100 %
Group discussion30.0100 %
Individual work and/or group work20.00 %
Lectures14.0100 %

Assessment systems

NameMinimum weightingMaximum weighting
Practical tasks0.0 % 30.0 %
Presentations0.0 % 30.0 %
Written examination0.0 % 40.0 %

Ordinary call: orientations and renunciation

Final evaluation will be based on an oral presentation (30%), homework assignments (20%), class participation (comments of required readings, 10%) and a final exam (40%), which will be based on key concepts presented during class discussion, seminar readings and the oral presentations. The percentage corresponding to the oral presentation and homework assignments will be considered if and only if the final exam has been passed.

This is a graduate course and it is assumed that you are here to learn as much as possible. Therefore, class attendance is compulsory. You are not permitted to be absent without a very good reason and you should let me know of any planned absences in advance. It is virtually impossible to make up what you will have lost from missing class discussions.


Exam: The use of mobile or electronic devices, notes, books is not allowed

Home-assignments: the work submitted by the students must be their own work and must have been written completely by themselves. The students must identify and include the source of all facts, ideas, opinions anD viewpoints of others through in-text referencing and the relevant sources

should all be included in the list of references at the end of their work.

Direct quotations from books, journal articles, internet sources or any other source must be acknowledged and the sources cited must be identified in the list of references.

Extraordinary call: orientations and renunciation

The final evaluation will be based on a written exam (40%), whose result will be added to the ones obtained in the other parts of the course (oral presentation and homework assignments).


Unit 1. Introduction

1.1 Some preliminary questions

1.2 Defining the object of the field of study: What is second language acquisition (SLA)?

1.3 General issues in SLA research

1.4 The nature of learner language

1.5 Formal and functional approaches

1.6 Conclusion

Unit 2. The role of the first language in non-native language acquisition

2.1 What is transfer?

2.2 Early research: Behaviorism and the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (CAH)

2.3 The 70s: Error analysis, the morpheme studies and the first theoretical models

2.4 Current views on transfer

Unit 3: Universal Grammar and second language acquisition

3.1 Introduction

3.2 Why a Universal Grammar (UG)?

3.3 What does UG consist of?

3.4 SLA and UG

3.5 The nature of data available to the L2 researcher

3.6 Common misunderstandings

Unit 4: The SLA of English grammatical morphology

4.1 Introduction

4.2 Basics of morphology

4.3 Early studies on the acquisition of grammatical morphemes

4.4 Linking L2 accuracy profiles of grammatical morphology to the building of a mental grammar

4.5.The category Infl and phrase structure

4.6 The role of VP and IP in the L2 acquisition of English verbal morphology

Unit 5: Conversational interaction and morphosyntax (I)

5.1. Introduction

5.2 Conversational interaction in L1 acquisition

5.3 Conversational interaction in L2 acquisition

5.4 Output as a tool in cognitive activity

5.5 Factors affecting conversational interaction

5.6 Achievements and limitations of research on conversational interaction

Unit 6: Conversational interaction and morphosyntax (II)

6.1. Introduction

6.2 Background on focus-on-form (FonF)

6.3 Some empirical studies in ESL and EFL settings

6.4 Conclusions and lines for further research


Compulsory materials

The material for the course (handouts for each thematic unit, Power-Point presentations and complementary readings) is available in Egela ( Compulsory readings are available in pdf format. A list with the oral presentations (titles of papers and student/pair presenting) will also be available in due course. It is the students’ responsibility to download this material.

Note 1: Besides the seminar readings, you will find other material in Egela. It is there for your information but you are not required to go through it.

Note 2: Requirements for written homework

1. All written homework must be done by computer, double-spaced.

2. Assignments of more than one page must be stapled together.

3. Assignments must be handed in prior to the beginning of the class period that they are due.

4. Late assignments will receive no credit.

Basic bibliography

García Mayo, M.P. (ed.) 2007. Investigating Tasks in Formal Language Learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

García Mayo, M.P. (ed.) 2017. Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School. Research Insights. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

García Mayo, M.P., Martínez Adrían, M. and Gutierrez Mangado, J. (eds.) 2013. Current Approaches to Second Language Acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Gass. S.M, Behney, J. and Plonsky, L. 2013. Second Language Acquisition. An Introductory Course. New York: Routledge.

Hawkins. R. 2001. Second Language Syntax: A Generative Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Ionin, T. & Montrul, S. 2023. Second Language Acquisition. Introducing Intervention Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mackey, A. (ed.). 2007. Conversational Interaction in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mackey, A. 2012. Input, Interaction and Corrective Feedback in L2 Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mackey, A. and S. M. Gass. 2011. A Guide to Research Methods in Second Language Acquisition. London: Basil Blackwell.

Ortega, L. 2009. Understanding Second Language Acquisition. London: Hodder Education.

Sato, M. & Ballinger, S. (eds.) Peer Interaction and Second Language Learning Pedagogical Potential and Research Agenda. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

White, L. 2003. Second Language Acquisition and Universal Grammar. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Useful journals

- Applied Linguistics

- Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

- International Journal of Bilingualism

- International Journal of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education

- International Review of Applied Linguistics

- Language Acquisition

- Language Awareness

- Language Learning

- Language Teaching Research

- Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism

- Linguistic Approa

- Second Language Research

- Studies in Second Language Acquisition

- The Language Learning Journal

- The Modern Language Journal


Useful internet links

- AILA (Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée)

- AAAL (American Association of Applied Linguistics)

- BAAL (British Association of Applied Linguistics)

- EUROSLA (European Second Language Association):

- ICOSLA (International Commission on Second Language Acquisition)


- The Linguist List.

- Second Language Research Forum (annual meeting)

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