UCL Psychology and Language Sciences


Language and Cognition Seminar - Learning as we talk: Implicit learning of syntactic structure in typical children and children with SLI’s dialogue

13 June 2016, 4:00 pm–5:00 pm

Event Information


Chandler House, Room G10

Speaker: Professor Holly Branigan, School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh

It is uncontroversial that young children’s experiences of language are based in dialogue and interaction (e.g., Tomasello, 2003), and there is considerable evidence that characteristics of these experiences have a strong influence on children’s language development.  Many studies have shown that children’s early use of language reflects statistical properties of the input to which they have been exposed (e.g., Lieven, 2010). In particular, the frequencies of different grammatical structures and of contingencies between specific verbs and structures in individual caregivers’ speech predicts typical children’s subsequent grammatical development (e.g., Huttenlocher, Waterfall, Vasilyeva, Vevea, & Hedges, 2010). But how do individual experiences of patterns of words and structures in interactions with caregivers come to influence children’s later language use, and how might they be related to impairments in language development?  In this talk I discuss how evidence from structural priming effects, or the tendency to repeat recently experienced structures, might be informative in these respects. I will present results from a number of recent experiments which demonstrate that during dialogue, children show an immediate and dynamic sensitivity to their partner’s syntax, as well as showing sensitivity to larger patterns of experience within the dialogue as a whole – but that there are important differences between typical children and children with SLI’s sensitivity. I will discuss how these short-term patterns might relate to long-term language development, and their implications for understanding the nature of children with SLI’s language deficits.

Time: Monday 13 June at 4pm
Venue: Chandler House, Room G10. 2 Wakefield Street