From simple to complex: Scaling up to real-world language learning.

This research stream will take what we have discovered about communicative development in phase 1 and use it to understand how different groups of children learn to use language to communicate in the more complicated real-world situations that they will encounter when they enter school.

Using language to communicate effectively and learning the complex forms that underpin academic language requires children to coordinate their linguistic representations with broader cognitive, socio-cognitive and pragmatic abilities (Haendler, Kliegl, & Adani, 2015; Low, 2010). In our first phase, LuCiD built models of word learning and syntactic development that explain how children combine information from multiple sources in the environment (e.g. Monaghan, 2017), and models of syntactic processing that explain how children’s comprehension and production of complex structures is influenced by their broader cognitive and pragmatic abilities (e.g. de Ruiter, Theakston, Brandt & Lieven, 2018). In this stream, we will extend these models, derived from language studies under controlled conditions, to understand how children learn to communicate in more complex real-world settings, such as preschools and classrooms, in which many disadvantaged children struggle.

There are four projects under this stream:

  • Testing pragmatic accounts of complex linguistic constraints

  • Putting lexical cues into discourse context 

  • Understanding the factors influencing the comprehension and production of complex sentences

  • Language and literacy practices in low SES multilingual families


Haendler, Y., Kliegl, R., & Adani, F. (2015). Discourse accessibility constraints in children's processing of object relative clauses. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 860.

Monaghan, P. (2017). Canalization of language structure from environmental constraints: A computational model of word learning from multiple cues. Topics in Cognitive Science, 9, 21-34.

de Ruiter, L., Theakston, A., Brandt, S., & Lieven, E. (2018). Iconicity affects children’s comprehension of complex sentences: The role of semantics, clause order, input and individual differences. Cognition, 171, 202-224.