Language and perception

We investigate the interactions between linguistic semantics and systems for representing objects, motion, space, and related perceptual and cognitive categories. One focus area is spatial prepositions (such as ‘to’, ‘towards’, ‘via’, and ‘(away) from’) that relate to the path of a motion, and verbs (like ‘to walk’ and ‘to crawl’) that relate to (basic-level) motion manner. The use of these and other words partly depends on categorisation. We investigate how infants and adults categorise motion patterns, if typical instances are preferred to atypical instances, and the interactions between naming and typicality of motion. A major part of our research focuses on the understanding of motion, in particular paths of motion and biological motion patterns. Experimental data are obtained to investigate motion categorization, the development of the motion lexicon, and the role of context in perceiving motion. We also combine behavioural methods and visual psychophysics to test the embodiment of lexical and phrasal meaning in the domain of motion perception and (implied) motion representation. 

Language acquisition and bilingualism

We investigate general and specific cognitive mechanisms that support first and second language learning, and how competences in the first language can transfer positively to additional languages. We are interested in the dynamic interaction of environmental and biological factors that impact on language learning, and how their influence changes over time. Another area of interest is the extent to which second language learners can attain the sensitivities typical of native speakers, and at what stage of language learning such sensitivities first emerge. Recent projects investigate how the child’s capacity to compose word meanings emerges during early development, how brain responses to language mature, and which neural signals can be used as predictors of subsequent language attainment in children.

Language-related developmental disorders

The group conducts active research in the links between cognition and language in developmental deficits known to affect language. Our research agenda includes subtle dissociations between structural language competence and figurative language processing in high-functioning autism, predictors of word decoding skills in children with reading impairment, studying the factors that impact positively of adversely language outcomes in developmental deficits, spatial cognition and spatial language in autism, the foundation of reading comprehension in typical readers and poor comprehenders.

Discourse semantics

We investigate how adults and children establish reference. One project studies Norwegian children’s processing and understanding of reference before and at the time they start learning English as their second language, and their processing of English later during their school years. We ask whether cues to joint attention and intentions, such as visual eye-gaze and emotional prosody, interact with linguistic information structure, the syntactic and prosodic marking of focus, in order to direct children’s attention to discourse referents and help them understand pronominal reference and the described event. Another project aims to identify neural correlates of establishing and shifting temporal (co-)reference in narratives, and more generally to characterise the time course of neural computations underlying interpretation and inference in discourse processing. Much of our experimental work on reference is based on explicit theoretical models of discourse representation, in particular in the areas of pronominal and temporal reference.