At the Language Development Lab at UNC we study how children perform the amazing feat of learning their native language. Why is it so amazing? Just think of how difficult it is for adults to learn a foreign language! And children do it without any grammar lessons. Before children can tie their own shoes, brush their own teeth, or even dress themselves, most have an impressive vocabulary and have started to build complex sentences.

Throughout the year, we conduct a number of individual studies on different aspects of language. The focus of our research concerns how preschool and young elementary school aged children come to understand the meanings of words, how they interpret words and sentences in context, and how they learn to communicate.

What our studies are like

Our studies generally involve showing children a series of cartoon pictures, scenarios acted out with props and toys, or short videos of people or toys interacting. We then ask the child some simple questions about what they saw using a hand puppet, or ask them to point to one of two pictures according to a linguistic prompt. All of our materials are age-appropriate and are aimed at children ages 3 to 7 years. Parents are always welcome to be present during the studies.

Topics of recent past studies

For the past several years our studies have centered around exploring how children interpret abstract verbs (like seem, appear, want and try) and adjectives (like easy, hard, excited and afraid). These verbs and adjectives are interesting because their meanings don’t usually correspond to something in the world that you can observe (unlike the verb hug, or the adjective red). So how do children learn them? This is a puzzle!

Since 2015 we have also teamed up with Dr. Kristen Lindquist in UNC’s department of Psychology and Neuroscience to study how children acquire emotion words, such as happy, sad, mad or afraid. As of 2023 we are collaborating with Dr. Kristen Syrett (Rutgers) on a new extension of that project.

Lab meeting schedule

Lab meetings in Spring 2024 will be held Mondays from 10-11:30am in Greenlaw 526A.

1/22/2410-11:30amGreenlaw 526ASemester planning and discussion of Becker & Estigarribia (2013) and Becker (2015)
1/29/2410-11:30amGreenlaw 526AT-shirt designs, training for running studies at MLS
2/5/2410-11:30amGreenlaw 526ADiscuss Lindquist & Gendron (2013), Widen & Russell (2010), and train for running new experiment
2/12/24no meeting
2/19/2410-11:30amGreenlaw 526ADiscuss Shablack, Becker & Lindquist (2020) paper; review recent MLS visits

Please contact Dr. Becker if you are interested in attending lab meetings.