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A new department at the MPI: Language Development

On September 1, 2016, the MPI gains a new department on Language Development headed by Caroline Rowland from the University of Liverpool. Her plan is for the new department to lead the research field in child language development with cutting-edge methods.
A new department at the MPI: Language Development

Language is a uniquely human, complex communication system learnt apparently effortlessly in the first few years of a child’s life. "Put simply, it is my goal to discover how children achieve this", says Caroline Rowland, professor of Developmental Psychology. As of 1st September, she will revive the research field of child language development at the MPI by establishing a new department.


The brain and development, across the world

The work of the department will focus on three themes: Language in the Brain, Language across the World and Language over Development. "We aim to build biologically plausible models of the learning mechanisms in the human brain, and to determine how these mechanisms use the information available in the child’s environment to develop adult language." Across all themes, studies will take place with children of all ages, and with adults. She adds, "The themes will be supplemented by a department-wide 'Innovations team'. They will devise new methodologies (e.g. virtual reality) and build big data tools for the automated collection and analysis of child language data."

Five year plan

For the near(er) future Rowland has clear ideas: "My first task is to establish a team at the MPI who can start looking for answers to the most important research questions we have now: How do (neuro-cognitive) mechanisms in the brain support language development? How does the learning mechanism respond to different languages? What causes individual variation in language ability across development? I want us to be leading the field in answering these questions and to be producing cutting-edge methodologies and technologies that will directly benefit the child language research community as a whole." More information can be downloaded here.


Rowland succeeds Wolfgang Klein, director of the former department Language Acquisition, who retired in March 2015. Klein has very kindly given up his office for Rowland. Surprised by the number of bookcases he left, she says: "I clearly need to read a lot more to keep up with him!"

She names her department 'Language Development', because "It simply reflects what I do, and have always done. I'm a developmental psychologist who studies how children learn language." The Language Development Department also shortens to LaDD, which harks back to the linguist Chomsky. The idea that children have an innate language learning capacity known as the Language Acquisition Device (LAD), started off this field of research. "Love it or hate it, you can't deny the power and influence of this original idea!"

If people want to follow the progress of the creation of the new department, Rowland plans to tweet about it regularly at @CaroRowland, using the hashtag #LaDD.

More information

Caroline Rowland is a professor at the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, University of Liverpool and is Co-Director of the LuCiD centre, where she leads the Language 0-5 project. She is a series editor for the Trends in Language Acquisition (TiLAR) book series and an associate editor for the Journal of Child Language. Together with Evan Kidd she is editor of the book section “The development of language” in the MIT volume Human Language: From Genes and Brains to Behavior.

For her full profile, see here.

About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.



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