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

RESEARCH QUESTIONS: -To what extent do Flemish teenagers integrate morpho-syntactic and phonological features of the Brabantic regiolect in their chat language? -What is the impact of the independent variable ‘hometown’? Is there a correlation between the relative representation of Brabantic regiolect features and the region where the chatters come from? To what extent do teenagers from the provinces of West-Flanders, East-Flanders and Limburg integrate morpho-syntactic and phonological...
Phonological descriptions of the Standard Dutch vowel system distinguish between tense and lax vowels. Both categories may differ in intensity, vowel quality and duration. This project focuses on the perceptual role of duration in vowel categorisation for tense vowels. We study how differences in vowel duration are perceived by listeners with different regional backgrounds. The durational measurements are made in spontaneous speech samples of native speakers in well-defined geographical regions...
This project studies schwa epenthesis in spontaneously spoken Standard Dutch in Flanders and The Netherlands. The focus is on the duration of the inserted schwas.
In this project we investigate whether language acquisition and language processing is best described using a rule-based model or using an exemplar-based model. More specifically, we will use priming experiments to find out whether these two models make correct predictions about the acquisition of the phonology and lexicon of a non-standardised variety (viz. the Maldegem dialect) by children who were raised in Standard Dutch.
The main objectives of the project (i) to optimise deaf patients' hearing experience by developing a new hearing device which combines both types of stimulation in the same ear; (ii) to develop a test battery for prosody reception, i.e. the perception of language rhythm and melody; and (iii) to use this new prosody test battery as a quality measure for the current generation of cochlear implants and classical hearing aids, as well as for the newly developed hybrid electric-acoustic prototype.
Research in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience has shown that audition and language exhibit plasticity, i.e. the ability to modify pre-existing neural synaptic connections dedicated to particular cognitive systems, depending on the quantity and quality of the environmental stimuli during a specific developmental stage. However, there is very little consensus in the literature with respect to the precise limits of these windows of opportunity. In this project we will tackle the...
The aim of this project is to investigate acoustic-phonetic characteristics of the speech of young congenitally deaf children who received a cochlear implant in their first year of life. In particular the acoustic characteristics of their babbling will be investigated in order to detect discrepancies with the babbling of hearing infants. In addition we will analyze spontaneous speech of these children at the age of six, and investigate whether it displays the typical characteristics of "deaf...
Cochlear implants have been used since the eighties and by now the technique is well established and implemented all over the world. When the age of implantation is charted out, it appears that children are being implanted at a steadily decreasing age: a few years ago, the youngest subjects that received a CI were around two years of age. Nowadays, children are already implanted around their first birthday, and the youngest subjects that have recently been implanted at the University of Antwerp...
Young children often insert 'fillers' in their first multiwordutterances: vocalizations that do not correspond to conventional words. For instance, it is hard to determine the meaning of the syllables [m] and [] in utterance (a). Fillers often have the shape of a syllabic nasal or a schwa, as in utterances (a) and (b). But sometimes they consist of several syllables, as in utterance (c). (a) [m] pick [] flowers (English learning boy, age 1;6; from Peters and Menn, 1993)(b) [] oiseau [] vole (...
Optimality Theory (OT) is the central paradigm in current theorizing about phonological acquisition. OT is a deductive model: (a priori) linguistic knowledge is represented in the child's linguistic (grammatical) competence. In this project we explore an empirist, inductive alternative for this approach. An empirist, inductive model is defined as a model in which the mental lexicon is central in acquisition. Linguistic knowledge is collected and stored in the lexicon. The contrast between...