Research in phonological development

Research York baby lab phonological development Our research is informed by the following Programmes:

1. Interactions between perception & production

It has been well established that infants develop knowledge of the patterns of the native language over the course of the first year of life. At the same time, in parallel, vocal development is marked by a critical milestone at about 6-8 months, with the emergence of canonical babbling (e.g., bababa, dadada – the first adult-like syllable production). One of our major interests is the question of when and how these two strands – advances in infants’ perception and production – come together and influence one another.

2. Phonological templates

Although a baby’s first words are often relatively accurate, in the period that follows we typically find a ‘regression’ in accuracy, with the baby’s words tending to become more similar due to the emergence of one or more production routines or ‘word templates’. We are interested in the ways in which these phonological templates first appear and later fade, in how they differ by ambient language and by individual child within a single language group. Another important question is the extent to which these production templates affect the way children process the speech they hear and the way they remember it – a critical part of new word learning. We are also interested in possible clinical applications of the concept.

3. Late talkers

Late talkers are defined as children who have produced few words and no combinations by age two. Many of these children are ‘late bloomers’, who catch up with their peers within a few months. Children who fail to show rapid advance before age 3 may be at risk for either Specific Language Impairment or Dyslexia. We have conducted a study to establish the role of phonetic and phonological difficulties in predicting later lexical and grammatical advance and have current plans to collaborate on a large international study of these issues.

4. Effects of input on infant language development

Infants have been shown to be attracted to the variable melodic patterns of ‘infant-directed’ input speech, or ‘baby talk’. Although this speech register is thought to be nearly universal, the style of speech used with babies varies from one culture to another and also between families within a single culture. We are interested in learning more about how these differences affect children’s word learning.