Language is the most complex communication system on earth, yet children master it before they learn to tie their shoelaces. How on earth do they manage it? Child language researchers have been asking themselves this question for over 53 years. In that time we’ve gone from phone boxes to mobile phones, from encyclopedias to wikipedia, from the cold war to the code war. But what progress has been made in language acquisition research since 1965?
Last week Professor Elena Lieven, Managing Director of the ESRC LuCiD Centre, addressed this very question in her Nijmegen Lectures, a three-day lecture and seminar series held at the Radboud University and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguisticsin Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Elena has been studying how children learn language since receiving her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 1974 and her enthusiasm for the subject has never waned. Over three days, Elena and some invited discussants took us on a whirlwind tour of 53 years of research.