Language acquisition @ CASTL: Extracting micro-cues from micro-people

Group members: Merete Anderssen, Helene Andreassen, Berit Anne Bals Baal, Berit Ellen Aina Bals, Kristine Bentzen, Ömür Caglar-Ryeng, Tammer Castro, Marja Eira, Björn Lundquist, Natalia Mitrofanova, Roksolana Mykhaylyk, Ritva Nystad, Yulia Rodina, Jason Rothman, Antonella Sorace, Olga Urek, Øystein Vangsnes, Marta Velnić, Marit Westergaard, Anna Wolleb.

Output: Publications --- Presentations

The Acquisition Girls

The Research Group

The language acquisition group at Tromsø includes a number of active researchers: Professor Marit Westergaard, Associate Professor Merete Anderssen, Professor II (20%) Jason Rothman, Lab Manager Björn Lundquist, Researchers Kristine Bentzen, Berit Anne Bals Baal and Roksolana Mykhaylyk, PhD students Tammer Castro, Natalia Mitrofanova, Olga Urek, Marta Velnić and Anna Wolleb, as well as affiliate Ömür Caglar-Ryeng and project assistants Berit Ellen Aina Bals and Marja Eira. For a number of years, our main research projects have been related to the theme Variation in the Input (VIA). Currently, the research of the acquisition group is increasingly expanding its focus to include bilingual acquisition and multilingualism in general (e.g. heritage languages).  In 2014, our most important research projects are DASAGO, NoRus, and our L3 English projects.

Activities 2014

In 2014, the group has been expanded to include Professor II (20%) Jason Rothman (CeLM, University of Reading) and Lab Manager Björn Lundquist.
Spring: Eyetracking reading group
Fall: Seminar on Language Acquisition and Multilingualism, St. Petersburg

Activities 2013

Weekly PhD seminar fall semester: Topics in Bilingualism, Marit Westergaard
Weekly PhD seminar spring semester (LIN-8002), Merete Anderssen

Our work continues to be published in international journals and other publication channels (see Publications) and presented at a number of conferences all over the world (see Presentations). Furthermore, the acquisition group has become affiliated with the new Center of Excellence at the University of Oslo, MultiLing.

Activities 2012

In cooperation with Antonella Sorace and Bilingualism Matters at the University of Edinburgh, we have started an advice and information service called Flere språk til flere (FSF) for bilingual families and the general public, based on current research in the field. Since the start in June 2011, we have given a number of FSF presentations. As part of our outreach activities, we also published a special CASTL issue of the magazine Ottar in 2012, with several contributions by the acquisition group.

Weekly research seminar, spring 2012: Acquisition at the Interface
Weekly seminar, fall 2012: Introduction to Language Acquisition
Workshop, September 13: Workshop on Language Acquisition at Decennium: The First Ten Years of CASTL
Workshop, October 22-23: Acquisition at the Interface

Activities 2011

Workshop, April 4-5: The VAMOS workshop
Weekly research seminar, spring 2011: Topics in Language Acquisition
Establishment of a new information service on multilingualism, Flere språk til flere.
Newsletter for the language acquisition lab:

In 2011 our work was presented at a number of international conferences and workshop, including ISB8 (International Symposium on Bilingualism) in Oslo in June, IASCL (International Association for the Study of Child Language) in Montreal in July, and GALA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition) in Thessaloniki in September. See presentations for further information.

The Research Projects

The Tromsø Language Acquisition Group explores children's sensitivity to micro-variation in the input and the corresponding distinctions in syntax and information structure. Our main project is VIA (Variation in the Input in Acquisition), which focuses on children's acquisition of word order variation. A subproject of this is VAMOS (Variation and Acquisition: Multiple Object and Subject positions), which is funded by the Tromsø Research Foundation 2008-2011. Variation in the input was also the theme of a workshop we organized at GLOW XXX in Tromsø in 2007, with contributions spanning a variety of languages. Papers from this workshop were published in 2010 in the series Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics, Springer Verlag. We have our own lab on campus, the TROmsø Language acquisition Lab (TROLL), where we conduct various kinds of linguistic experiments with children from the day-care centers and schools in the area. The 2009 TROLL Newsletter (for parents, daycare centers, etc.) may be downloaded below:


Results 2010

Our main research projects in 2010 continued to be VIAand VAMOS. In both projects the focus is on young children’s acquisition of word order variation. This work has led to an increasing interest in bilingualism (the extreme version of variation in the input). This was reflected at the major event we organized in 2010, The Acquisition of Linguistic Variation.

In the spring of 2010 we also established an interdisciplinary research group on mulitilingualism, combining linguistics, pedagogy and political science. The focus of our research is bilingual children in the North, i.e. on the contact situation involving Norwegian, Russian and Saami. The group has received seed funding from the Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education, and as a direct result of this, we have established a research-based advice and information service for bilingual families called Flere språk til flere, a Norwegian version of Bilingualism Matters.

The acquisition group was joined by Annie Gagliardi (University of Maryland) as a guest researcher in the fall of 2010 and in May 2011. In 2010 we also secured funding for the following two research projects:

BIC - Bilingual Immigrant Children in North Norway: The Norwegian Welfare Society and the Language of Norwegian-Russian Children
DASAGO - Davvisámegiel mánáid giellaovdáneapmi: North Sami child language acquisition

Results 2009

Our general findings are that children have an early sensitivity to fine distinctions in syntax and information structure, referred to as micro-cues in much of our work, e.g in this book (Westergaard 2009). Nevertheless, we also find that complete mastery of certain constructions is slightly delayed (e.g. pronominal subject placement), and that others are severely delayed (e.g. object shift). These constructions have been tested experimentally in our language acquisition lab on campus. Our work has resulted in several publications in recent years.

Our work was also presented at various conferences and workshops in 2009, including GALA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition) in Lisbon in September and BUCLD (Boston University Conference on Language Development) in Boston in November. We also gave invited talks at e.g. ZAS Berlin (Bentzen), UMass Amherst (Bentzen and Westergaard), University of Maryland and Universität Hamburg (Westergaard), and University of Barcelona (Fikkert). Furthermore, we participated in conferences on the more national/local scene, e.g. MONS (Westergaard) and a Seminar on North Norwegian Dialects in Tromsø (Anderssen, Bentzen and Rodina, and Westergaard). Finally, Sorace and Westergaard also gave a couple of popularized talks for a general audience.

Results 2008

Our research resulted in one PhD dissertation (Yulia Rodina) and several publications in 2008. Here is an overview of our publications from recent years. In 2008 we presented talks both nationally and internationally, e.g. at the Centre for the Study of Mind and Nature in Oslo (Westergaard), the International Congress for the Study of Child Language in Edinburgh (Anderssen), the Formal Descriptions of Slavic Languages in Moscow (Rodina and Westergaard), the International Conference for English Historical Linguistics in Munich (Westergaard), guest lectures in York, Lund, and Berlin (Westergaard), and an invited presentation at an international workshop on Frequency and Language Development in Wuppertal (Anderssen, Bentzen, Rodina and Westergaard).

We have also written popularized articles on language acquisition for the magazines BARN and Labyrint, and there was a report on our Lab in Labyrint’s December issue.Furthermore, we have several times contributed to a national radio program (in particular Kristine Bentzen), Språkteigen. In June, we were invited to contribute at an interdisciplinary workshop on Dyslexia and Language in Tromsø, and Marit Westergaard gave a non-specialist talk for a wider audience in connection with Steven Pinker’s visit to Tromsø when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in March.

The Language Lab



Contact information

CASTL, Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education, NO-9037 Tromsø, Norway · Phone: + 47 77 64 54 08 · E-mail: peter This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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