Accessibility statement

Second language syntax



The module provides a thorough introduction to issues in the development of syntactic knowledge in second language acquisition (SLA). In addition, students will learn about key issues in experiment design and analysis in the field of SLA. By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Understand the main current theories of SLA, and their different proposals about the roles of Universal Grammar and first language knowledge in SLA
  • Show how second language (L2) data are used to provide evidence for (or against) the main theories of L2 syntactic development
  • Explain the significance of major SLA research findings in the context of theories of L2 syntactic development
  • Give an account of techniques for investigating L2 syntactic development

This module will be capped at 35.



Students must have successfully completed:

  • L16I Intermediate Syntax (LAN00016I) 

Information for visiting students: You must be familiar with the basics of a generative approach to syntax to take this module. If you have studied a syntax textbook such as Core Syntax by David Adger (2005), then you have the right background. Please contact the module convenor if you are unsure whether your studies at your home university provide you with the right background for this module.



Contact hours

You will have 1.5-hour lectures and 1-hour seminars most weeks of the teaching period.

Teaching programme

Lectures present key questions in L2 acquisition and outline L2 data that addresses these questions. Seminars investigate the L2 data in greater depth through critical reading and discussion of primary sources, and through hands-on work with L2 data.  Students will participate in presentations about some of the course readings.

Teaching materials

Recommended textbook:
  • Slabakova, Roumyana. 2016. Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Additional readings will be made available in a reading pack.

Suggestions for reading before the module starts

Reading the introductory chapters of the White (2003) textbook (above) in advance will give you a good head start. Alternatively, or in addition, set the scene by reading any of the following:

  • Chapter 1 and Chapter 3 in VanPatten, Bill & Jessica Williams (eds.) Theories in second language acquisition: an introduction. New York/Abingdon, Oxon: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Chapters 4–6 in Gass, Susan M. & Larry. Selinker. 2008. Second language acquisition: an introductory course. Third edition. New York & London: Routledge. 405–416.
  • Hawkins, Roger. 2001. Second language syntax. Oxford: Blackwell. (Chapter 1 reviews concepts you should already know before starting the module.)

Assessment and feedback

Assessment and feedback

Formative work and feedback

  • Formative exercise due in Week 6 of Spring term.
    • Individual feedback provided in Week 7, Spring term.
  • Informal student presentations (in groups) also serve as formative work. Oral feedback will be provided immediately following the presentation. 

Summative assessment and feedback

  • Essay
    1500 word essay, due Spring term, Week 10
    • Weight: 30%
    • Feedback: Provided before the open exam
  • Open exam
    Week 5, Summer term
    • Weight: 70%
    • Written feedback available by the end of Summer term


Transferable skills developed in this module

All modules provide an opportunity to work on general oral/written communication skills (in class and in assessments) and general self management (organising your studies), alongside the specific skills in language or linguistics that the module teaches.

In addition, this module will allow you to particularly develop skills in the application of IT/numeracy skills. You will gain experience in exploration and interpretation of quantitative experimental data, using Excel. Work will include preparation of data for analysis, conducting basic statistical analysis using Excel functions, and creating charts to present the results of analysis.

Follow this link to hear how past students use transferable skills from their degree in their current jobs.

About this module

  • Module name
    Second language syntax
  • Course code
    L15H (LAN00015H)
  • Teacher(s) 
    Heather Marsden
  • Term(s) taught
  • Credits