On 21st-22nd September the second LuCiD Language and Communicative Development Conference was held at the Manchester Museum and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought that the conference provided a great space to meet with students and researchers working across the Universities of Manchester, Lancaster and Liverpool in a friendly, relaxed and informative environment. Having spent so long being focused on my own specific research topic, I found the opportunity to learn about new methodologies and explore the various studies being conducted across the five main themes within the LuCiD project to be highly valuable.
The keynote speaker Dorothy Bishop opened the conference with an insightful talk challenging the conventional idea that late talking is a predictor of specific language impairment (SLI). She found that the biggest predictors did not necessarily include the age of speech onset but children who were most likely to develop SLI were late and average talkers who had a family history of SLI. It was also interesting to hear about the work being conducted under the 0-5 project which seeks to explore individual differences in children’s first five years of language development. I was particularly intrigued by the different ways in which researchers are investigating new ways of obtaining data. Amy Bidgood spoke about how the babble checklist which is a parental measure of children’s production of consonants could be used instead of transcribing children’s audio recorded speech. Andrew Roxburgh presented an exciting new mobile application, the Babytalk App, that is being developed for parents to regularly upload information on their child’s language development.
I enjoyed hearing about research conducted under the environment theme and learning about possible extra-linguistic factors supporting children’s communicative development. In a talk by Eugenio Parise from Lancaster, I learned that linguistic cues (e.g. words) might possibly play a larger role in nine month old babies’ language development than non-linguistic cues (e.g. sounds). His team found that babies were quicker and more likely to attend to images of objects (e.g. a cow) after hearing the word (cow) rather than hearing the sound (moo). Research presented under the communication theme was insightful as we explored how pre-verbal children use gestures to communicate. Laura Boundy provided evidence to show that 10 month olds are more likely to use hold out gestures to direct an adults’ attention towards a toy when the adult was attentive to both the child and toy and not just one or the other. Thea Cameron-Faulkner went on to suggest that hold out and giving gestures could be predictive of pointing behaviours at 12 months in Bengali, Chinese and English children.
Under the variation theme, we learned of how children’s language processing interacts with particular features (e.g. morphology) of various languages. For example, Egle Saviciute provided support for the usage based account of language learning which emphasises the role of input on children’s language development showed that Lithuanian children were less likely to make morphological errors with noun forms that they have heard more frequently in their input. Where they did make errors, children were more likely to produce the more commonly heard noun form as opposed to the target noun form. I particularly enjoyed hearing about research being conducted under the knowledge theme. These studies aimed to investigate how children build mental representations of sentences and how their language knowledge develops with age. Michelle Davis for example, provided evidence to suggest that children’s production of various kinds of tag questions (e.g. it’s cold, isn’t it?) is related to the form-function mappings in the tag questions that they hear. Laura de Ruiter suggested that children show better comprehension of sentences with adverbial clauses where the order of the clauses in sentences reflected the true order of events (e.g. wash your hands before you eat dinner would be easier to understand than before you eat dinner, wash your hands).
While I have only very briefly touched upon the key aspects of a few studies here, the range of topics covered during the conference was diverse, ranging from the role of caregiver input in children’s communicative development to computational modelling. I learned so much during the two days and found the variety in the research conducted within the LuCiD network to be impressive. I appreciated that there was a lot of time for discussion after talks for us to delve deeper into each topic, learn from and challenge researchers’ methodologies and propose new ideas for future studies. Overall, I found the conference to be a great experience and I am excited to see what next year holds in store for us!