How Language is Acquired

Do events infants see, such as a ball being thrown or a dog running into a house, impact their language acquisition and what they ultimately think about the world? Professor Laura Lakusta of the Psychology Department is hoping to uncover the mystery.

woman playing with little kids "The overall goal of my research is to provide a theoretical framework for understanding how children construct a mapping between non-linguistic, conceptual representations of the world and linguistic structure, so they can talk about what they see," she explains. 

Currently there are two theories on the subject. "According to one view, the nature of infants' event representations closely reflects the semantic structures of language. When they learn language, children map or link concepts into these semantic structures," Lakusta explains. "According to another view, the nature of infants' event representations is very different from the semantic structures of language, and learning language shapes pre-linguistic thought."

Lakusta will explore both theories. "The findings have implications for developmental cognitive psychology as well as linguistics, and will impact society more broadly," she says. "My research will contribute to a more thorough characterization of cognitive and language development in typically developing children. It will help answer questions that are fundamental to understanding how children think about the world and how language influences early thought."

Lakusta's research is supported through several University grants and awards, and undergraduate and graduate students will assist her in all areas of the project. "The goal is to expose students to scientific research and instill in them an appreciation for scientific discovery," she says.