This introductory chapter sets out the purpose of the book, which is to examine normal expressive language development, namely, the first stage of syntax in children's spoken language. The study's working hypothesis is that the basic units of acquisition are grammatical relations which can be defined as syntactic connections between pairs of words. The research strategy is derived from Corpus-based Linguistics, and consists of a search for both the fine details and the global characteristics of early childhood speech and of parental child-directed speech, based on large pooled speech corpora. A model of development is proposed that sees children as precocious social beings who crack the linguistic code by matching unknown linguistic forms with speaker's communicative intent which they interpret on the basis of the interactive context. An overview of the subsequent chapters is presented.
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