Research

The acquisition of language is one of the most mysterious and exciting achievements of early childhood.

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The focus of research in our Centre is to describe the events in infancy that prepare the child for this remarkable event, and to attempt to explain the developmental mechanisms that make it possible. We take an interdisciplinary approach using both behavioural and neuroimaging (or electrophysiological) techniques, focusing on the period from birth to the end of the second year of life. This developmental work is often complemented by studies with adults.

We focus primarily on development during the first two years of life because it represents a critical period for language acquisition. We seek to identify the kinds of perceptual biases infants bring to speech perception, the role that specific linguistic input plays in modifying perceptual categories, how these changing categories help the child move on to acquiring language, and the advances in learning and cognition that contribute to this process.

Over the past several years we have extended this work to infants being raised in a bilingual or multilingual environment to see what impact of growing up with more than one language has on speech perception and early language acquisition. We also study infants who are “at risk” for developmental or specific language delays, to see if the milestones that have been documented in early infancy can be used to help identify children in need of intervention.