Language Acquisition

Acquiring one's native language is a multifaceted and protracted process. This is reflected in our research in several ways: the focus is on early acquisition (e.g., children's language production in the first years of life) as well as on later stages of acquisition (e.g., youngsters' creative formation of new writing conventions in their chat language). We study children's speech as well as the development of their writing abilities.

The main research topic is how very young children learn to use the language they hear. This process actually starts before babies use conventional words and phrases. That is why we study babies' vocalizations from birth onwards, focusing on how they become more and more 'word-like'. Once they start using words, we analyze the phonological development (the sound and syllable patterns words consist of, stress and intonation, 'speech errors') and morphophonological development (for instance, how do they learn diminutives or plurals?), and syntactic development (e.g., how do they learn the basic word order of Dutch?). Moreover, we study how young children learn the meanings of words and how they know how to use these new words correctly?

A major area of research in language acquisition is the extent to which the language environment of the child provides enough information with which to learn language. A number of our studies investigate the relationship between children's productions and the language they hear. At present we have an outspoken interest in language acquisition in children with different degrees of hearing: normally hearing children's language acquisition is compared with hearing impaired children with a conventional hearing aid and deaf children with 'received hearing' due to cochlear implantation.

Our basic methodological approach is empirical: in most studies we collect spontaneous speech data of children interacting with their parents and peers. Those data are meticulously transcribed and coded using state-of-the-art technological tools. We also use psycholinguistic experiments in which we elicit language production under more controlled conditions.

Our research mainly focuses on the acquisition of Dutch as a first language. There is also a firm emphasis on crosslinguistic studies in which the acquisition of particular phenomena is studied in typologically diverse languages.

Past Projects

One common feature of child-directed speech involves the use of diminutive derivations as in Patty, froggy, or bootie. Although the pragmatic and semantic features of diminutives seem to be universal (Jurafsky, 1996), across languages there is much variability in the frequency of diminutive usage. For example, diminutives are pervasive in the child-directed speech registers of Dutch, Russian, and Spanish but are rare in those of English and German. To some extent, these differences can be...
The aims of this project are: i. Investigation of the earliest stages of morphophonological acquisition and development;ii. crosslinguistic studies of early morphophonological development. In the project the following languages are represented: Bask, Corean, Croatian, Dutch, Estonian, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Hebrew, Huichal, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Tunesian Arabic, Turkish, Ukranian, Yucatec Maya.
This project investigates the acquisition of relative adjectives (e.g. big, old, warm) by Dutch-speaking children. Semanticists have shown that relative adjectives evoke open scales with the pivotal region – norm – in the middle. Due to the relevance of a class-specific norm, we may call a cat big and an elephant small, even though a cat is much smaller than an elephant. Open scale structure explains why relative adjectives cannot be used in combinations like helemaal làng 'completely long'....
The aim of this project is to investigate segmental, intrasyllabic and intersyllabic co-occurrence patterns in prelexical babbling, and the acquisition of phonological segments and patterns in the early lexical period. Longitudinal data of deaf children with a cochlear implant (implanted in the first/second year of life) will be compared with those of a hearing age matched cohort in order to establish if they develop language in the same sequence and according to the same patterns as hearing...