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Language Acquisition

The Linguistics Program has been very active in multidisciplinary research on language acquisition. The multilingual environment of New York City, the varied language backgrounds of our students, and the collaborations among the faculty, as well as faculty and students, make language acquisition a particularly rich field of study at the Graduate Center. The faculty and students study how young children learn their native language (L1 acquisition) and how older children and adults learn a second language (L2 acquisition) or a foreign language. Our empirical research is informed by work in syntax, learnability theory and computational modeling, phonetics, phonology, semantics, psycholinguistics, cognitive psychology, neurolinguistics, and speech pathology. We use a range of methods: cross-sectional and longitudinal observations; experimental tasks such as elicited imitation, elicited production, comprehension, grammaticality judgment, reading, and Event Related Potential (ERP). We compare children and adult learners of many different languages. We report our research at conferences around the world and encourage students to develop research and presentation skills early in their career.

Recent projects include cross-linguistic work on the acquisition of syntax (e.g., syntactic categories, word order, tense and aspect, null subjects, and wh-questions), the acquisition of phonetics (e.g., cross-linguistic perception of voicing assimilation), the relationship between syntactic knowledge and reading and listening in L2 (children and adults), phonological effects on the perception and production of English inflectional morphology (e.g., the past tense), performance factors in the production of L2 syntax. Recent dissertations in L1 include a study of Hebrew-speaking children's acquisition of subjects (Elisha), Spanish-speaking children's acquisition of pronominal clitics (Blasco), and German-speaking children's use of root infinitives (Lasser). Recent dissertations in L2 include verb movement in Thai-speaking learners of English (Singhapreecha), lexical and morphosyntactic attrition in L1 speakers of Greek (Pelc), the role of syntactic knowledge in L2 reading (August), and ERP correlates of word order and morphosyntax in Spanish-speaking learners of English (Kessler).