Bootstrapping mechanisms in first language acquisition

Barbara Höhle*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


In the field of language acquisition the term bootstrapping stands for the assumption that the child is genetically equipped with a specific program to get the process of language acquisition started. Originally set within the principles and parameters framework bootstrapping mechanism are considered as a linkage between properties of the specific language the child is exposed to and pre-existing linguistic knowledge provided by universal grammar. In a different view - primarily developed within the so-called prosodic bootstrapping account - bootstrapping mechanism direct the child's processing of the input thereby constraining the child's learning in a linguistically relevant way. Thus, the attendance to specific input cues provides the child with information to segment the input in linguistically relevant units which constitute restricted domains for more general learning mechanism like e.g., distributional learning. The paper will present a review of empirical findings that show that children are in fact equipped with highly sensitive and efficient mechanism to process their speech input which initially seem to be biased to prosodic information. It will be argued that further research within this framework has to deal with the reliability of the proposed relevant input cues despite crosslinguistic variation and with children's ability to overcome an initial reliance on single cues in favor of an integration of different sources of information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-382
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


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