Observational Learning and Language Acquisition: Principles of Learning, Systems, and Tasks

  • Grover J. Whitehurst
  • Barbara D. DeBaryshe
Part of the Springer Series in Language and Communication book series (SSLAN, volume 24)


The thesis of this chapter is that language, like many other complex skills, is acquired in part through the process of observational learning. In observational learning, one person’s behavior (the model’s) is witnessed by a second person (the observer). Observational learning has occurred when some aspect of the model’s behavior comes to control a related aspect of the second person’s behavior. The observer’s behavior may match the model’s along the dimensions of topography, function, or discriminative context (Whitehurst, 1978). A topographical relation involves similarity of form. For example, a mother might say to her child, “You are incorrigible today;’ and the child replies, ”I’m’corrigbal.“ Matching along the functional dimension involves similarity between the outcome of the model’s and observer’s behavior. For example, a child might see people on a television commercial drinking bottles of soda; the child may then hurry into the kitchen to get a cup of juice. An example of observational learning of discriminative context (and topography) may be seen when a child is able to correctly name a real helicopter after having been exposed to pictures of helicopters and the wordhelicopterduring picture-book reading with parents.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Grover J. Whitehurst
  • Barbara D. DeBaryshe

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