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Dr Ditte Boeg Thomsen

Formerly at Lancaster University

Ditte Boeg Thomsen

Research overview

I am a child language researcher investigating the interplay between children’s linguistic and cognitive development. As part of the ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development (LuCiD) I examine the possible influence from linguistic perspective marking on young children’s social cognition by means of training studies with 2-to-3-year-olds. To assess the role of general cognitive abilities, the experiments further test the impact of memory, inhibition and cognitive flexibility.

In two side projects, I also target the relationship between language and cognition, but from different angles: neurodevelopmental disorders (language development in autism) and crosslinguistic comparisons (linguistic fieldwork and semantic typology).

Research Interests

My present project with LuCiD has its roots in my previous studies of typically developing children’s acquisition of linguistic viewpoint markers. Since 2008, I have investigated children’s acquisition of complement-clause constructions and intersubjective Danish discourse particles through experiments and observational studies, and to this end I have assembled a large spontaneous-speech corpus of peer group conversations between Danish kindergarteners who are followed longitudinally (at present 224 hrs, age range: 1;1-6;7 years).

In my PhD dissertation, Linguistic perspective marking and mental-state reasoning in children with autism: A training study with complement clauses (University of Copenhagen, 2016), I extended my research on neurotypical children’s acquisition of linguistic perspective marking to another diagnostic group, children with autism. I investigated how young schoolchildren with autism can benefit from explicit linguistic tools for the sociocognitive task of attending to and reasoning about their own and others’ thoughts, 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 this, my research on children’s language acquisition has concentrated on three areas:
By means of comprehension experiments (3-to-6-year-olds, adults) and spontaneous-speech analyses, I have examined syntactic strategies for comprehending and producing transitive clauses across development. Focusing specifically on the object-first construction, I study the interplay between children’s mastery of grammatical cues (case and word order) and sensitivity to discourse-contextual cues (topicality and contrast).

Second, as part of the research group From Sound To Word (Center for Child Language, University of Southern Denmark), I have examined the relationship between phonological and lexical development in the transition from babbling to first words and in children’s early lexicon (9-30 months) with the primary goal of assessing the effects of sound structure and phonetic variation in the ambient language (Danish).

Thirdly, as part of the research group GIDDY (Gender in Dutch and Danish Youngsters), I have conducted production experiments with bilingual schoolchildren (age 8-13 years), examining bilingual acquisition of grammatical gender. Gender marking is known to pose a special challenge in second language acquisition, and to understand what factors help and hinder acquisition, we compare effects of structural traits in children’s L1 (Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, Somali) and in the target language (Danish vs Dutch) as well as semantic factors such as animacy.

A distinct track in my research on the relationship between language and cognition follows my fieldwork (2010, 2013, 2017) on the severely endangered Otomanguean language Acazulco Otomí, spoken in the mountain village San Jerónimo Acazulco in Valle de Toluca, Mexico. In a collaborative project with Otomí speakers in the village and with archaeologists, anthropologists and linguists in Mexico and the US, I investigate relations between language, memory, categorization and cultural practices, focusing on spatial language and representation of landscape. We also take part in the revitalization efforts budding in Acazulco, where Otomí has been almost displaced by Spanish and is only spoken by the grandparent generation.

In continuation of this work I co-organized the conference Geographic grounding: Place, direction and landscape in the grammars of the world (University of Copenhagen, 2016) addressing crosslinguistic variation and similarities in coding strategies, dependencies across linguistic subsystems and place-marking systems as parts of ecological and cultural niches.

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