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. 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.

Lab meeting schedule

For Fall 2021 we are having joint lab meetings with Dr. Elika Bergelson at Duke. These meetings take place monthly on Wednesdays at 10-11 a.m on Zoom. Current meeting dates are:

9/22/21UNC-DukeLilli Righter talks about her recent experiments on verb category learning
12/15/21UNC-DukeKatya Pertsova's new research

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