Child language documentation: The sketch acquisition project

Hellwig, B., Defina, R., Kidd, E., Allen, S. E. M., Davidson, L., & Kelly, B. F. (2021). Child language documentation: The sketch acquisition project. In G. Haig, S. Schnell, & F. Seifart (Eds.), Doing corpus-based typology with spoken language data: State of the art (pp. 29-58). Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press.
This paper reports on an on-going project designed to collect comparable corpus data on child language and child-directed language in under-researched languages. Despite a long history of cross-linguistic research, there is a severe empirical bias within language acquisition research: Data is available for less than 2% of the world's languages, heavily skewed towards the larger and better-described languages. As a result, theories of language development tend to be grounded in a non-representative sample, and we know little about the acquisition of typologically-diverse languages from different families, regions, or sociocultural contexts. It is very likely that the reasons are to be found in the forbidding methodological challenges of constructing child language corpora under fieldwork conditions with their strict requirements on participant selection, sampling intervals, and amounts of data. There is thus an urgent need for proposals that facilitate and encourage language acquisition research across a wide variety of languages. Adopting a language documentation perspective, we illustrate an approach that combines the construction of manageable corpora of natural interaction with and between children with a sketch description of the corpus data – resulting in a set of comparable corpora and comparable sketches that form the basis for cross-linguistic comparisons.
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