The Psycholinguistics Laboratory investigates cognitive, language-specific and cultural variables that are relevant for first language acquisition. Learning a language is a uniquely human ability and one of the main questions of this research unit is to find out whether there are universal, i.e. language-independent strategies children apply in learning a language and if yes, how theses strategies interact with language-specific and culture-specific variables of individual languages.
Languages differ to an extreme degree both in their linguistic structures and the cultural contexts in which they are used. One of the main goals of this research unit is to find out how children cope with this diversity. This requires a comparative approach to acquisition. We focus on the early linguistic development of children growing up in diverse cultures. In order to learn about the early grammar of children, their language use is compared to that of their surrounding adults in longitudinal corpora (regular recordings in the natural environment over an extended period of time). The study of both the role of variation across languages and the role of variables for variation within languages takes center-stage and for this research new methods for measuring and comparing development are being developed.
An important emphasis is the documentation and study of first language learning of endangered languages. The documentation of the acquisition process in endangered languages extends our knowledge about the linguistic variables children are able to cope with and at the same time it contributes to the documentation of world heritage.