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.

Until recently children who were born "deaf" remained "deaf", and thus were unable to acquire spoken language. Fortunately nowadays deaf children with a cochlear deficit can be helped with a surgical intervention: they receive a cochlear implant (CI) very early in life so that they can "hear", i.e., can experience sound sensations. The first concern that the parents of these children phrase, is: "will my child hear with an implant?" The answer is definitely positive. The second question...
  Social class differences in teenage speech remain largely unexplored, while gender has been focused on in quite a lot of sociolinguistic research on adolescent peer group language. The interest in gender differences has also pervaded the research on informal computer-mediated communication (CMC) and more specifically on the online writing practices of adolescents in chat or texting media, but then again, the link with social class is generally absent. Yet some studies (though not on CMC...
The acquisition of abstract linguistic categories is investigated. Computational models of bootstrapping operations are constructed in order to investigate how knowledge from one domain can be instrumental in acquiring knowledge of another domain. In our simulations the language addressed to very young children is used in an attempt to elucidate how grammatical categories and grammatical gender are acquired given a combination of distributional, phonological and morphological bootstrapping.
Newborn babies have been shown to be sensitive to the speech melody of the language that they hear: they recognise the word stress patterns of their mother''s language, and they are sensitive to the rhythm of that language (for instance, babies can distinguish what has been called the ''Morse Code'' rhythm of Germanic languages and the ''Machine Gun'' rhythm of Romance languages). Thus, already in the first year of life, infants seem to know a lot about how their ambient language sounds....
The main objective of this study is to investigate the acquisition of "lexical" stress and rhythm in the period when children produce canonical babbling and their first identifiable words. A good understanding of these phenomena in children''s speech is of prime importance because it has been shown that prosody plays a cardinal role in children''s language acquisition.
The project is a corpus-based study of the linguistic features of a new, multimodal text type within Audiovisual Translation (AVT): Audio-description (AD) for the blind and visually impaired. The aim of this interdisciplinary project is to describe the lexico-grammatical features of AD-scripts and examine the role they play in the specific communicative function of the text. The object is to explore one of the key-issues in AD research: How are images put into words and what are the...
The aim of the current project is to investigate early sound development in two populations differing in access to spoken language: children with normal hearing (NH) and congenitally deaf children with "received hearing" due to cochlear implantation (CI) at an early age. In comparing speech accuracy of these two groups with "different degrees of hearing", we aim to gain a better insight into the role of the auditory perception system in language development.
  How can we explain the apparently delayed language development of children whose parents can be said to have a low socioeconomic status (lowSES)? Why does a child with, say, a mother who is on public assistance have a poorer language proficiency than a child with a mother who has a university degree and a professional occupation? Previous research has shown that the linguistic environment (the language the child hears, the conversations and interactions that adult and child have) of the...

Past Projects

Nowadays, many profoundly deaf children are given access to auditory information by means of a cochlear implant (CI). Thanks to this device, these children are able to develop oral speech and language. However, there are still many open questions about the nature of speech and language skills of CI children. Previous research has focused mainly on perceptual achievements, while far less attention has been paid to speech and language production, i.e. to how well do CI children speak? Moreover,...
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...