Language acquisition, processing and disorders

Het Babylab van de Universiteit Utrecht

The ‘Language acquisition, processing and disorders’ research group studies

1) Bilingual and second language acquisition by comparing different mono- and multilingual settings:

  • first language acquisition
  • monolingual first language versus bilingual first language acquisition
  • normal versus impaired acquisition

2) Language and speech processing, by comparing further sets of speakers:

  • healthy speakers – speakers with language-related neurocognitive deficiencies
  • speakers with innate deficiencies (SLI, dyslexia)– speakers with acquired deficiencies (aphasia)
  • monolingual individuals – bilinguals

An overarching goal is to shed light on the set of general problems having to do with how language structure interacts with language acquisition and language processing, and how these interactions are embedded within and determined by domain-general cognitive processes and mechanisms.

Research Questions

Examples of research questions we address are:

  • Tone-learning vs. non-tone-learning babies: what is the contribution of universal maturational factors and language specific input factors to the developmental trajectory of tone perception?
  • Bilingual vs. monolingual babies: does bilingualism have any general effects on tone perception, which cannot be reduced to specific differences in tonal input states?
  • From item-based patterns to generalized structures/rules: what drives the transition?
  • If SL learning is critical for early LD, then do children with DLD have SL Deficiencies?
  • How can we validly and reliably measure individual differences in language development and the cognitive processes underlying it, and how can such measures be applied to diagnostics?
  • What is the developmental interaction between different linguistic levels of processing in children with developmental speech sound disorders?
  • Do typological differences in the relative importance between word order and prosody in focus marking lead to differences in children’s use of word order and prosody in unmarked and marked word orders?

We also contribute to innovations of diagnostics and intervention for adults and children with language and speech difficulties, mostly in collaborative work with colleagues at the HU University of Applied Sciences and the Royal Auris Group.

An overarching goal is to shed light on the set of general problems having to do with how language structure interacts with language acquisition and language processing.


For investigating language acquisition and processing in infants, children and adults, we use a range of experimental techniques, including the Truth Value Judgment tasks, Headturn Preference Procedure (HPP), audiovisual habituation (e.g. switch procedure), eye tracking (visual world paradigm, preferential looking), Event Related Potentials (ERP), EMA, EMG, Frequency Following Responses (FFR), Artificial Language Learning (ALL), etc.

For studying language acquisition, we also use computational modeling, analysis of production data (e.g. infant-directed speech). 


Linguistic (target) structures

  • prosodic focus marking
  • phonotactics
  • grammatical morphology
  • implicatures
  • lexical tones
  • etc.

Input states

  • infant/child monolingual
  • infant/child bilingual
  • etc.

Atypical states

  • aphasia
  • dyslexia
  • specific language impairment
  • autism
  • hearing deficiencies/cochlear implants
  • etc.

Processing types

  • discrimination
  • speech segmentation
  • word recognition
  • associative word learning
  • etc.