LuCiD DitteBoegThomsen.JPG

Ditte Boeg Thomsen

Researcher

A bit about Ditte Boeg Thomsen

I am a child language researcher with specialization in perspective-marking language and social cognition – and a broad interest in language acquisition from babbling and first words to syntactic constructions in larger discourse contexts. 

I studied Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen with elective studies in Cognitive Semiotics (Aarhus University) and Audiologopedics and a traineeship at the Center for Child Language (now Center for Language Learning, University of Southern Denmark). During my studies, I began to assemble a longitudinal Danish kindergarten corpus (the Trørød Corpus, 2008-2017, 224 hours, age range 1;1-6;7), which I have used for analysing perspective-marking language in peer-group conversations. 

In my Master’s thesis (Copenhagen 2012), I examined kindergarteners’ and schoolchildren’s production and comprehension of intersubjective particles that indicate constellations of viewpoints. In my PhD dissertation (Copenhagen 2016), I extended my research on neurotypical children’s acquisition of linguistic perspective marking to children with autism. I conducted a training study to investigate how young schoolchildren with autism benefit from explicit linguistic marking of mental states, and my primary collaborators were the two research groups Language and Cognition – Perspectives from Impairment, University of Copenhagen and The Autism Research Group, City University London. 

In addition to perspective-marking language, my child-language research has targeted:

    • relationships between phonological and lexical development in the transition from babbling to first words and in children’s early lexicon,
    • the interplay between grammatical and discourse-contextual cues in 3-6-year-olds’ sentence comprehension,
    • acquisition of grammatical gender in bilingual children.

 My Role in LuCiD

In LuCiD, I investigate the interplay between children’s language acquisition and developments in their social understanding. During kindergarten age, young children develop an increasingly flexible and sophisticated understanding of their own and others’ mental perspectives on the world – while at the same time acquiring linguistic tools for communicating about these perspectives. In the project Modal and mental state terms, our primary goal is to pinpoint how these developments in children’s social cognition and communication are interrelated.

On the one hand, we ask whether acquisition of linguistic terms marking different degrees of certainty, such as mental-state verbs (e.g. think vs. know) and modal verbs (e.g. may vs. might), depends on specific levels of attention to mental states, as measured by implicit and explicit false-belief tests.

On the other hand, we ask whether acquisition of a specialized type of perspective-marking grammar, the complement-clause construction, supports young children’s ability to reason about mental states by providing them with a stable, explicit and flexible format for relating persons and representations of situations (e.g. He says [it’s his doll], We pretend [I’m the witch]).

To address these questions of causal influence, I conduct longitudinal and training studies with two- and three-year-olds, in the lab and in children’s day-care institutions. These studies further examine children’s short-term and working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility to gauge to which extent relationships between language and social cognition depend on differences in executive functioning, influencing both linguistic and sociocognitive development.