Language acquisition @ CASTL: Extracting micro-cues from micro-people
Group members: Merete Anderssen, Helene Andreassen, Berit Anne Bals Baal, Kristine Bentzen, Paula Fikkert, Roksolana Mykhaylyk, Yulia Rodina, Antonella Sorace, Øystein Vangsnes, Marit Westergaard, Anna Wolleb.
The Research Group
The language acquisition group at Tromsø includes a number of active researchers: Professor Marit Westergaard, associate professor Merete Anderssen, researchers Kristine Bentzen and Berit Anne Bals Baal, post-docs Yulia Rodina and Roksolana Mykhaylyk, PhD student Anna Wolleb, and Professor II (20%) Antonella Sorace, who is also Professor of Developmental Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. For a number of years, our main research projects have been VIA and VAMOS, but the research of the acquisition group is increasingly expanding its focus to include bilingual acquisition. Currently, our most important research projects are BIC and DASAGO.
In cooperation with Antonella Sorace and Bilingualism Matters at the University of Edinburgh, we have started an advice and information service called Flere språk til flere (FSF) for bilingual families and the general public, based on current research in the field. Since the start in June 2011, we have given a number of FSF presentations. As part of our outreach activities, we also published a special CASTL issue of the magazine Ottar in 2012, with several contributions by the acquisition group.
Establishment of a new information service on multilingualism, Flere språk til flere.
Newsletter for the language acquisition lab: Newsletter 2011
In 2011 our work was presented at a number of international conferences and workshop, including ISB8 (International Symposium on Bilingualism) in Oslo in June, IASCL (International Association for the Study of Child Language) in Montreal in July, and GALA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition) in Thessaloniki in September. See presentations for further information.
The Research Projects
The Tromsø Language Acquisition Group explores children's sensitivity to micro-variation in the input and the corresponding distinctions in syntax and information structure. Our main project is VIA (Variation in the Input in Acquisition), which focuses on children's acquisition of word order variation. A subproject of this is VAMOS (Variation and Acquisition: Multiple Object and Subject positions), which is funded by the Tromsø Research Foundation 2008-2011. Variation in the input was also the theme of a workshop we organized at GLOW XXX in Tromsø in 2007, with contributions spanning a variety of languages. Papers from this workshop were published in 2010 in the series Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics, Springer Verlag. We have our own lab on campus, the TROmsø Language acquisition Lab (TROLL), where we conduct various kinds of linguistic experiments with children from the day-care centers and schools in the area. The 2009 TROLL Newsletter (for parents, daycare centers, etc.) may be downloaded here.
Our main research projects in 2010 continued to be VIA and VAMOS. In both projects the focus is on young children’s acquisition of word order variation. This work has led to an increasing interest in bilingualism (the extreme version of variation in the input). This was reflected at the major event we organized in 2010, The Acquisition of Linguistic Variation.
In the spring of 2010 we also established an interdisciplinary research group on mulitilingualism, combining linguistics, pedagogy and political science. The focus of our research is bilingual children in the North, i.e. on the contact situation involving Norwegian, Russian and Saami. The group has received seed funding from the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education, and as a direct result of this, we have established a research-based advice and information service for bilingual families called Flere språk til flere, a Norwegian version of Bilingualism Matters.
The acquisition group was joined by Annie Gagliardi (University of Maryland) as a guest researcher in the fall of 2010 and in May 2011.
BIC - Bilingual Immigrant Children in North Norway: The Norwegian Welfare Society and the Language of Norwegian-Russian Children
DASAGO - Davvisámegiel mánáid giellaovdáneapmi: North Sami child language acquisition
Results 2009Our general findings are that children have an early sensitivity to fine distinctions in syntax and information structure, referred to as micro-cues in much of our work, e.g in this book (Westergaard 2009). Nevertheless, we also find that complete mastery of certain constructions is slightly delayed (e.g. pronominal subject placement), and that others are severely delayed (e.g. object shift). These constructions have been tested experimentally in our language acquisition lab on campus. Our work has resulted in several publications in recent years.
Our work was also presented at various conferences and workshops in 2009, including GALA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition) in Lisbon in September and BUCLD (Boston University Conference on Language Development) in Boston in November. We also gave invited talks at e.g. ZAS Berlin (Bentzen), UMass Amherst (Bentzen and Westergaard), University of Maryland and Universität Hamburg (Westergaard), and University of Barcelona (Fikkert). Furthermore, we participated in conferences on the more national/local scene, e.g. MONS (Westergaard) and a Seminar on North Norwegian Dialects in Tromsø (Anderssen, Bentzen and Rodina, and Westergaard). Finally, Sorace and Westergaard also gave a couple of popularized talks for a general audience.
Our research resulted in one PhD dissertation (Yulia Rodina) and several publications in 2008. Here is an overview of our publications from recent years, as well as our work in progress. In 2008 we presented talks both nationally and internationally, e.g. at the Centre for the Study of Mind and Nature in Oslo (Westergaard), the International Congress for the Study of Child Language in Edinburgh (Anderssen), the Formal Descriptions of Slavic Languages in Moscow (Rodina and Westergaard), the International Conference for English Historical Linguistics in Munich (Westergaard), guest lectures in York, Lund, and Berlin (Westergaard), and an invited presentation at an international workshop on Frequency and Language Development in Wuppertal (Anderssen, Bentzen, Rodina and Westergaard).
We have also written popularized articles on language acquisition for the magazines BARN and Labyrint, and there was a report on our Lab in Labyrint’s December issue. Furthermore, we have several times contributed to a national radio program (in particular Kristine Bentzen), Språkteigen. In June, we were invited to contribute at an interdisciplinary workshop on Dyslexia and Language in Tromsø, and Marit Westergaard gave a non-specialist talk for a wider audience in connection with Steven Pinker’s visit to Tromsø when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in March.