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Language is an extremely complex system, which is continuously subject to change. Despite this complexity and vast amount of variation, children learn their mother tongue quickly and efficiently. The challenge is to discover how children learn the structure of language, what aspects of language they store language in their brain, and how this developmentally affects their use of language.

Central in Paula Fikkert’s research is the acquisition of phonological representations in the lexicon, the role of these representations in perception and production, and their interaction with morphosyntax. Phonological representations mediate between the acoustic signal and meaning in speech perception and between meaning and the articulatory output in speech production. Thus, these representations lay the foundation for successful communication. Yet, the nature of phonological representations that are built up during language acquisition and the mechanisms behind that are far from clear.

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Paula Fikkert’s research team aims at unraveling this by studying children's input and output based on large corpora, (cross-linguistic) psycholinguistic experiments (mostly in the Baby and Child Research Centre) and computational modeling. A vast amount of methods are employed ranging from classical production studies and looking-time measures to neurophysiological measures such as EEG, ERPs and NIRS. Various stages of phonological acquisition are covered: the early universal language learner, the distributional-phonetic learner, and the lexically guided (morpho)phonological learner. Although the focus is on typical language acquisition, the way atypical first acquisition proceeds is also studied (such as in children with cleft palate, developmental language disorders and dyslexia). Also, acquisition of sign language as a first language, which employs a different modality, and language acquisition by newcomers is investigated.

Visit the website of the research team at Radboud University for more information.

Department of Dutch Language and Culture,
Centre for Language Studies,
Radboud University of Nijmegen,
P.O. Box 9103,
6500 HD Nijmegen,
The Netherlands

Tel: (+31) 24–3612669
E-mail: p.fikkert@let.ru.nl

Radboud