Language Development and Disorders (LDD): research projects

Research studies

LuCiD - Using word order for communicative ends


Variations in word order are often used for communicative purposes such as to highlight or downplay participants, (e.g.  I broke the vase vs. The vase broke on me); to highlight new or important information, (e.g. That book is mine vs. It’s mine, that book); and to relate what to say to what someone has already said, (e.g. when to use a proper name and when to use a pronoun). In this project we are going to examine how children learn to use word order to perform these sorts of functions. 

We will start by analysing the conversations of children speaking Polish, Finnish, German, English and a Tibeto-Burman language of East Nepal, Chintang, to see how they learn to perform these different discourse functions using the word order tools their different languages provide. 

Following this, we will develop experiments to work out what governs children’s choices of particular word orders in language with more (Polish, Finnish) or less (English, German) flexible word orders. A PhD student will be appointed to follow this up by looking at more complex sentence structures.

These questions are very important because children’s ability to use language in these ways is central to their becoming more sophisticated speakers and to their literacy and wider educational achievements.  

Funding body

ESRC - ES/L008955/1

Members of the project

Professor Elena LievenPrincipal investigator
Professor Anna TheakstonCo-investigator
Dr Laura De RuiterResearch associate
Dr Marta SzrederResearch associate