A very different theoretical approach has been taken by those who view the central task of the child as gaining communicative competence. Much of the research conducted within this framework has focused on the acquisition of pragmatic aspects of language, including the functions of utterances and their use in discourse and other communicative contexts. Within research on grammatical development the functional approach does not take formal syntactic theory as its primary model. Instead, the structure of language is viewed from a functional or processing perspective. One example is the competition model of language acquisition proposed by Elizabeth Bates and Brian MacWhinney. In this model, the child begins by establishing the basic functional categories: topic-comment and agent. Different surface representations of these functional categories then compete for expression and initially the child may use a simple one form-one function mapping. Eventually, children move toward the adult system of form-function mappings.

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