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Department of Linguistics

Child Language Lab Research

Interactions at the Phonology/Morphology Interface

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One of the classic problems in language acquisition is variability in the production of grammatical morphemes. Our recent research suggest that much of the within-speaker variability in morphological production can be understood in terms of prosodic (contextual) constraints, where current findings suggest that grammatical morphemes may be acquired earlier in contexts where they are Prosodically Licensed, pointing to a closer link between the acquisition of phonology and morphology than often assumed. These issues, and their perceptual counterparts (using eye-tracking and brain imaging methods (EEG/MEG)) are currently being explored in various populations (SLI, bilinguals, L2 adults, children with hearing loss), with implications for language processing.


Syntactic Generalization

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We have long been interested in how and when children begin to make syntactic generalizations. Some of this research has been carried out in Sesotho, where the high frequency of passives appears to facilitate earlier acquisition of this construction than in English. On the other hand, Sesotho-speakers also exhibit generalization to low-frequency double-object applicatives, where word order is influenced by animacy rather than thematic roles. Recent work on English dative shift and transitive/intransitive alternations also shows early generalization of new syntactic frames with novel verbs. Current research has extended this to explore issues of morpho-syntactic generalization as well.

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The Nature of the Input and Implications for Learnability

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The starting point for much of our research is determining the nature of the input children actually hear. This involves detailed study of child-directed speech. Armed with this information we can better address the nature of the learnability problem, and how it may influence the course of acquisition. Much of this research examines the nature of the input at different levels of structure (i.e., syntactic, lexical, morphological, segmental, acoustic/phonetic) and makes predictions about the course of development of certain structures crosslinguistically. This is complemented with probabilistic modeling of the learning process (see joint work with Mark Johnson), in an attempt to discover what types of procedures learners may use in solving the language learning problem.


Research Opportunities

Postdocs and PhD, MRes or Honours students interested in pursuing any of these areas of research should contact lab director, Katherine Demuth

Undergraduates interested in gaining research experience, contact lab coordinator, Nyaradzai Marunda.

Contact us

Level 3, Australian Hearing Hub
16 University Ave
Macquarie University
Sydney, NSW, 2109, Australia

phone: +61 2 9850 6705 
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Researcher Enquiries 

Postdocs and PhD, MRes or Honours students
Email: Katherine Demuth (Lab Director) or Titia Benders (Deputy Lab Director) 

Undergraduates interested in gaining research experience
Email: Nyaradzai Marunda (Lab Coordinator)

Macquarie University Centre for Language Sciences (CLaS)
ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD)
The Hearing CRC