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.


Steven Gillis Stadscampus - S.L.306
Lange Winkelstraat 40-42
2000 Antwerp
Tel. +32 3 265 52 40