Aoju Chen is Professor of English Linguistics: Language Development. Her research is concerned with both fundamental research questions on English linguistics with a focus on prosody, the role of prosody in communication and acquisition of prosody before and after birth in a first language and in adulthood in a second language, and the issue of how acquisition of linguistic abilities in a first or second language interacts with the learner’s development into a socially functional individual in a familiar or new culture.

In her NWO-funded VICI project "A sound start: Prosodic development before birth and in the first three years of life" (2021-2026), Aoju Chen and her group investigate how children learn native prosody, in particular, language-specific prosodic phrasing and form-meaning mappings, during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first three years of life. Adopting an original interdisciplinary and cross-linguistic approach, they study the role of biologically motivated innate mechanisms, input-based learning mechanisms that drive the development toward mastery of language-specific prosodic competence in both the prenatal and postnatal periods in the auditory modality, and the role of visual attention in the postnatal prosodic development. 

As a principle investigator (PI) in the interdisciplinary research hub Belonging within the university’s strategic theme Dynamics of Youth,  Aoju Chen investigates how the development of speech entrainment at multiple linguistic levels in child-parent interactions influences the development of the sense of belonging in children and adolescents, which has strong effects on their emotional and mental well-being and cognitive functioning.

In a recently completed NWO-funded VIDI project “Get the focus right: a cross-linguistic study on prosodic encoding of focus in children” (2011-2016), Aoju Chen and her team have studied the developmental path to adult-like competence in using prosody to structure information across languages, how children acquiring the same language differ from each other in this process, and what linguistic and non-linguistic factors can account for the individual differences. She has put forward the first cross-linguistic model of the acquisition of prosodic focus marking. 

English Linguistics: Language Development
Inaugural lecture date