Second language acquisition (SLA) is a field that investigates child and adult SLA from a variety of theoretical perspectives. This article provides a survey of some key areas of concern including formal generative theory and emergentist theory in the areas of morpho-syntax and phonology. The review details the theoretical stance of the two different approaches to the nature of language: generative linguistics and general cognitive approaches. Some results of key acquisition studies from the two theoretical frameworks are discussed. From a generative perspective, constraints on wh-movement, feature geometry and syllable structure, and morphological development are highlighted. From a general cognitive point of view, the emergence of tense and aspect marking from a prototype account of inherent lexical aspect is reviewed. Reference is made to general cognitive learning theories and to sociocultural theory. The article also reviews individual differences research, specifically debate on the critical period in adult language acquisition, motivation, and memory. Finally, the article discusses the relationship between SLA research and second language pedagogy. Suggestions for further reading from recent handbooks on SLA are provided. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 277–286 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.106

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