Current Funded Projects

Faculty members in the School have achieved high levels of success in securing funding from all three Canadian Research Councils (CIHR, NSERC, SSHRC), Quebec Research Councils, and from international and private funding sources. The following provides a list of major funded research projects being conducted by SCSD faculty:

 


 Dr. Shari Baum

NSERC Discovery Grant (2011-2017)
"Sensorimotor control of speech"

Principal Investigator

Although the ability to produce clear speech is such a critical aspect of daily life, we have only a limited understanding of how the motor programs for speech are developed and implemented. One means of examining this issue is to explore the response of the speech production system to externally-imposed changes that mimic, in part, natural alterations in the environment. The proposed program of research does just this, by investigating the sensorimotor factors involved in the development of novel speech articulation programs in response to manipulations of sensory input. A series of experiments will focus on how speakers modify their tongue position (and the resulting sound output) when faced with two cooperating or competing sources of input: altered auditory feedback and alterations to vocal tract shape. Two additional series of experiments will explore the brain structures that support this flexibility in sensorimotor integration for speech using various functional neuroimaging methods. The findings have implications not only for our understanding of how speech is produced under varying conditions, but also for understanding developmental and acquired impairments of speech production.


Regroupement Stratégique FQRNT/FQRSC (2011-2017)
"Centre for Research on Brain, Language & Music"

Principal Investigator

McGill’s Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM) at McGill University is a Regroupements Stratégiques maintaining faculty and student research support, research training and scholarly development across four Montreal universities (McGill, Université de Montréal, UQAM and Concordia). Our mission includes: promoting the scientific study of language and music neuroscience, stimulating interdisciplinary and cross-domain collaboration among researchers on basic and applied problems in language and music, fostering innovative research training for graduate and postdoctoral students, disseminating research findings to clinical and educational end-users and forming national and international partnerships. Our goal is to develop a fundamental theoretical, behavioral and neuroscientific understanding of the neurobiological, social and communicative processes of language and music.

FRQSC Grant (2013-2017)
« Multilinguisme: les défis et les impacts cognitifs et socio-culturels »

Principal Investigator with Vincent Gracco-PI, D. Titone, D. Klein, N. Phillips

Bilingualism and multilingualism are the global norm, yet the majority of language research is based upon studies of monolinguals. Learning a second language (L2) depends in large part on the social and environmental context and age of exposure; the development of language proficiency is critical to both the development of individuals and society. In this proposal, we seek to capitalize on the multilingual environment of Montréal and on our on-going individual research efforts, to establish our team as a global force for studying multilingualism. By bringing together our expertise in all aspects of language processing—from sounds to words to sentences and conversation—along with a diverse range of sophisticated experimental approaches, we will develop significant advances beyond what is currently feasible in our work in smaller collaborative environments.

One of our primary scientific goals is to identify the factors that maximize L2 proficiency in a real-world context. Identifying such factors has the potential to dramatically affect society in Québec through improved education and enhanced integration of immigrants, which may ultimately translate into improved economic growth. To that end, we propose three main axes of research: (1) contexts for language acquisition and their relation to multilingual performance, (2) Cognitive and interpersonal advantages of multilingualism, and (3) Contextual effects on cross-language interactions. Across all three axes, we plan to collect a set of core measures on all participants that will be shared across the axes and contribute to the integration of all of the research themes. These measures include fundamental background information concerning education, language learning history, immigrant status, and the like; core neuroanatomical and neurofunctional data (e.g., structural magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], diffusion tensor imaging [DTI] to examine white matter connectivity, and resting state networks to examine functional connectivity); core cognitive measures tapping a range of executive functions, as well as verbal and non-verbal IQ; core linguistic measures, including subjective and objective evaluation of proficiency, as well as language processing data for all aspects of language (e.g., phonetic, lexical, syntactic); and core social measures, including information concerning personality, social network size, motivation to communicate, etc.


Dr. Meghan Clayards

SSHRC Insight Grant (2014-2017)
"Breaking into the Acoustic Stream: The role of allophonic patterns in processing language"

Co-applicant, Principle applicant Michael Wagner (Linguistics)

Understanding speech requires decoding multiple dimensions of information that are encoded in the incoming speech stream. Prosodic cues to word and constituent boundaries provide an important way for a listener to parse the signal into meaningful units, and these cues involve both segmental and super segmental changes to phonetic structure. There is, however, substantial variability in how prosody is realized, and concomitantly there is substantial variability in the realization of segmental information crucial for lexical access. Our research program aims at developing a model of how prosodic and segmental variability interact in production and how they are processed during on-line language understanding.


Dr. Vincent Gracco

VP-RIR McGill Regroupement Stratégiques (2011-2017)
"Centre for Research on Brain, Language & Music"
Principal Investigator

Regroupement Stratégique FQRNT/FQRSC (2011-2017)
"Centre for Research on Brain, Language & Music"

Principal Investigator

McGill's Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music (CRBLM) at McGill University is a Regroupements Stratégiques maintaining faculty and student research support, research training and scholarly development across four Montreal universities (McGill, Université de Montréal, UQAM and Concordia). Our mission includes: promoting the scientific study of language and music neuroscience, stimulating interdisciplinary and cross-domain collaboration among researchers on basic and applied problems in language and music, fostering innovative research training for graduate and postdoctoral students, disseminating research findings to clinical and educational end-users and forming national and international partnerships. Our goal is to develop a fundamental theoretical, behavioral and neuroscientific understanding of the neurobiological, social and communicative processes of language and music.

FQRNT Team Grant (2012-2015)
« Substrats Neuronaux Du Développement Moteur De La Parole »
Principal Investigator with David Ostry-PI and Douglas Shiller

For this collaborative project, we will study healthy children from ages 5 to 12 and healthy adults. We will use fMRI measures of functional connectivity to study the neural substrates of speech motor development in children using a combined psychophysical-neuroimaging approach that enables us to relate changes in functional connectivity in brain networks to behavioral measures of learning in both motor and sensory domains.

NIH Operating Grant (2012-2017)
"Speech Motor Learning And Sensory Plasticity In Children And Adults"

Principal Investigator with David Ostry-PI and Douglas Shiller

Our focus is to quantify changes in brain networks in children and adults using an experimental model of speech motor learning in which we different kinds of auditory and somatosensory perturbations in conjunction with different neuroimaging modalities (structural and functional MRI, DTI, TMS) are used to study the development and maintenance of sensory error and feedforward control processes associated with speech motor learning.

NSERC Discovery Grant (2012-2017)
"Studies Of Neuroplasticity In Speech Processes"

Principal Investigator

Here we will use short-term and longer-term sensorimotor learning paradigms combined with studies of the functional and structural brain changes and extraordinary subject populations (professional speakers, trained singers and language interpreters) to identify and assess neuroplasticity in speech production and perception. The overall goal is to better understand the factors that govern neuroplasticity potential in adults and identify the functional consequences.

FRQSC Team Grant (2013-2017)
« Multilinguisme: les défis et les impacts cognitifs et socio-culturels »

Principal Investigator with Shari Baum-PI, D. Titone, D. Klein, N. Phillips

Bilingualism and multilingualism are the global norm, yet the majority of language research is based upon studies of monolinguals. Learning a second language (L2) depends in large part on the social and environmental context and age of exposure; the development of language proficiency is critical to both the development of individuals and society. In this proposal, we seek to capitalize on the multilingual environment of Montréal and on our on-going individual research efforts, to establish our team as a global force for studying multilingualism. By bringing together our expertise in all aspects of language processing—from sounds to words to sentences and conversation—along with a diverse range of sophisticated experimental approaches, we will develop significant advances beyond what is currently feasible in our work in smaller collaborative environments.

One of our primary scientific goals is to identify the factors that maximize L2 proficiency in a real-world context. Identifying such factors has the potential to dramatically affect society in Québec through improved education and enhanced integration of immigrants, which may ultimately translate into improved economic growth. To that end, we propose three main axes of research: (1) contexts for language acquisition and their relation to multilingual performance, (2) Cognitive and interpersonal advantages of multilingualism, and (3) Contextual effects on cross-language interactions. Across all three axes, we plan to collect a set of core measures on all participants that will be shared across the axes and contribute to the integration of all of the research themes. These measures include fundamental background information concerning education, language learning history, immigrant status, and the like; core neuroanatomical and neurofunctional data (e.g., structural magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], diffusion tensor imaging [DTI] to examine white matter connectivity, and resting state networks to examine functional connectivity); core cognitive measures tapping a range of executive functions, as well as verbal and non-verbal IQ; core linguistic measures, including subjective and objective evaluation of proficiency, as well as language processing data for all aspects of language (e.g., phonetic, lexical, syntactic); and core social measures, including information concerning personality, social network size, motivation to communicate, etc.

CIHR Operating Grant (2013-2019)
"Neural substrate and sensorimotor dysfunction in developmental stuttering"

Principal Investigator with Doug Shiller and L. Max
NIH Operating Grant (2014-2016)
"Somatosensory function in speech perception"

Principal Investigator with T. Ito and D. Ostry

Dr. Nicole Li

NIH NIDCD (2012-2015)
"Biosimulation of vocal fold surgical injury."
Principal Investigator

The goals of this research project are to expand existing agent-based computational model of vocal fold surgical injury with additional biological data and to implement the expanded model on a high performance computing platform using graphical processing units (GPU). Specifically, the work include: (1) to count immune and repair cells including neutrophils, macrophages, endothelial cells and fibroblasts in surgically injured rat vocal folds using flow cytometry, up to 4 weeks post injury; (2) to identify the cell source of a damage-associated molecular pattern molecule (DAMP) and measure the levels of the DAMP and cytokines in vocal fold tissue and blood serum from rats following vocal fold surgery using immunohistochemistry and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay respectively, up to 4 weeks post injury; (3) to implement the existing agent-based computational model on a high performance GPU parallel computing platform with an expanded algorithm through the addition of biological data.

NIH NIDCD (2014-2019)
"Design, construction, and evaluation of implants for vocal fold alteration and reconstruction."
Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Luc Mongeau-PI

The goals of this research are to understand the influence of the composition of a tissue-engineered scaffold and phonation-like mechanical stimulation in the process of vocal fold tissue growth. In vitro bioreactor studies will be performed to monitor cell activity and extracellular matrix protein concentrations under phonation-relevant mechanical stress over time. Computer models will be developed to simulated the tissue regeneration process, predict tissue elasticity and optimize scaffold composition. The long-term goal is to design an injectable biomaterials to promote permanent self-regeneration of the scarred vocal fold tissue without the need for periodic re-injection.

Canadian Foundation for Innovation John R. Evans Leaders Fund (2015-2017)
"Infrastructure for the study of personalized medicine for voice restoration."
Principal Investigator

The goals of this CFI program are to: (1) Identify the major cellular drivers of vocal fold injury and repair. Previous work has involved quantifying and identifying specific cell populations in the vocal folds after surgical injury in rats using flow cytometry methods. Additional functional experiments are required to confirm the identity of these cell types. (2) Evaluate the influence of the extracellular matrix environment on vocal fold cells. Cells react to changes in their physical environment, such as matrix stiffening during tissue repair. The short-term and long-term effects of matrix stiffening on vocal fold cell motility, proliferation, viability, cytokine protein expression, and the volume of collagen fibers, using a stiffness-tunable synthetic scaffold will be investigated. (3) Evaluate the influence of phonation on vocal fold cells. In addition to matrix stiffening, mechanical deformation affects cell activities in tissue growth and pathology. The vocal folds deform at high frequencies during speech. An existing vocal fold bioreactor will be used to generate phonation-like mechanical stimulation to vocal fold cells grown in scaffolds. Cellular activities related to inflammation and repair will then be investigated in this in vitro model system. (4) Expand the existing agent-based models with additional mechanical and matrix components. The biological data obtained from the above aims will be formulated as agent-rules to further improve the existing agent-based models. Parameter estimation and sensitivity analysis will be carried out to identify key model parameters that may affect model outputs.


Dr. Aparna Nadig

Max Bell Foundation Grant (2011-2015)
"A service delivery model to better support young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders"

Co-Investigator with Tara Flanagan

We propose a demonstration project, a group-format Transition and Social Inclusion Program for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This program addresses a clear need for transition support for this population, while tackling capacity-building needs by providing placements for practitioners-in-training: Master’s students in Speech Language Pathology and Inclusive Education. Immediate goals are to a) increase quality of life ratings by the young adults involved and ratings of their communication and social skills via the report of family members, and b) to train new practitioners to work with this older and higher-functioning population that is poorly served by existing educational services. Moreover, policy makers require empirical evidence of effectiveness to put services into action. To address this need we will conduct a research study on the effects of the intervention, employing a waiting-list control group. Results will be disseminated in both policy and scientific circles. Moving forward, this novel and low-cost service delivery model could be implemented more broadly. Our ultimate goal is to provide a feasible model that Canadian policy makers can use to respond to the challenge of providing transition services for young adults with ASD.

SSHRC Partnership Development Grant (2012-2015)
"Impact of digital tablets on shared reading interactions and outcomes"

Co-investigator, Susan Rvachew-PI

This project is concerned with understanding the social, cognitive and literacy implications of e-books implemented on digital tablets when used by children and adults in a shared reading context. The project has four components: (1) partnership development, (2) training and mentoring, (2) research and (4) knowledge mobilization. The project will result in e-books that are better adapted to the needs of diverse users and which are effective in the promotion of both foundational literacy skills and transferable digital competencies by children and adults.


Dr. Marc Pell

NSERC Discovery Grant (2011-2016)
"Neuro-cognitive studies of vocal emotion processing in speech"

Principal Investigator

The new field of “social neuroscience” is developing rapidly, and there is a recent surge of interest in how humans communicate their emotions and respond to emotional stimuli. In this research program, we investigate a topic that has been somewhat neglected in this growing field—how emotions are expressed and understood from the human voice while speaking, and how related mental functions are structured in the brain. To recognize vocal expressions of emotion, for example that convey anger or joy, listeners must process dynamic acoustic properties of speech–i.e., ongoing fluctuations in pitch, loudness, and rhythm which differentiate over time in emotionally meaningful ways. The fact that emotional expressions in the voice are uniquely represented across time raises a critical empirical issue: how quickly do we detect emotions when listening to a speaker’s voice? And what neural structures are involved? The time course for recognizing emotional meanings in speech has received little attention from researchers, although this knowledge will be fundamental for describing the human capacity for acoustic communication and the basis of this system in the brain. Another question that we will address is: when listeners recognize vocal expressions of emotion, does this information guide their visual attention and/or judgements of visual stimuli (e.g., facial expressions) in systematic ways? Answering this question will tell us much about natural social interactions, where humans are typically confronted by emotional cues in more than one sensory modality and must integrate these different cues in socially meaningful and adaptive ways. Our studies will involve young, healthy adults and our questions will be tested from different vantage points, using complementary methods at the forefront of cognitive neuroscience (behavioural approaches, eye-tracking, electrophysiology, and neuroimaging). Our research will lead to a more sophisticated model of the neuro-cognitive mechanisms that support emotional communication through the voice, and in broad terms, it will shed light on the uniquely human capacity to communicate both linguistic and emotional meanings using complex auditory signals. Our results will energize debate and new ideas which will significantly advance this rich new area of social and affective neuroscience.


Dr. Linda Polka

NSERC Grant (2012-2017)
"The development of phonetic perception"

Principal Investigator

This research program explores the development of speech perception in infancy through investigations that focus on vowel perception. Our goal is to fully portray vowel perception biases that young infants display in response to speech, explain how and when these perceptual biases form in development, and establish their role in the acquisition of spoken language. In pursuing these goals we will test and elaborate a new conceptual model, the Natural Referent Vowel (NRV) framework. According to this view vowels with specific articulatory-acoustic properties (which define the most peripheral vowels in a traditional vowel space) acts a natural referents: they support and guide the development of vowel perception by attracting infant attention and establishing a stable frame of reference for the learner. Prior studies of infant listening preferences for different vowels support this view by showing that infants (4 to 12 months of age) have a strong perceptual bias favoring peripheral vowels. Study 1 will assess when (and how) these perceptual biases are initially formed in early infancy. We will compare 2-month-olds and newborns to assess test the hypothesis that vowel perception biases emerge early in life via an interaction between infant neuro-auditory abilities and speech exposure. Studies 2 & 3 will test the NRV claim that peripheral vowels support the development of vowel perception and production. Study 2 tests the prediction that vowel perception biases also impact how babies perceive their own vocal patterns by examining infant listening preferences for vowels produced by an infant talker (using a new vowel synthesis tool). Study 3 will assess infant ability to recognize the same vowel produced by different talkers (adult, child, infant) to test the NRV prediction that vowel categorization skills develop in a stepwise, hierarchical manner such that peripheral vowel categories are acquired more easily and prior to non-peripheral vowel categories. This will be the first study to investigate how infants perceive infant-produced vocal signals. This approach is needed to understand how speaking and listening skills interact in infant speech development

SSHRC Insight Grant (2015-2019)
"Linguistic Processing with Bilinguals"

Primary Investigator

When we hear someone speak, we simultaneously attend to two distinct characteristics of speech: what is being said (linguistic information) and who is speaking (talker information). Language acquisition research and theories have traditionally focused on the “what” aspects of

spoken language. These studies show that the development of linguistic processing is highly language-specific. The “who” aspect of spoken language has received less attention. Talker recognition has long been regarded a generic skill that is not shaped by language experience. Recent research with monolingual adults has challenged this view and points to a bi-directional relationship between these two skills: talker recognition is enhanced by the perceiver’ ability to process the native language and, conversely, linguistic processing is enhanced by the perceiver’s ability to identify different talkers. Thus, an emerging view is that the social forces – specifically, a functional integration of talker and linguistic information – shape speech-processing skills. Like much research on language acquisition bilinguals have not been considered.

The aim of the proposed research is to understand how language experience impacts talker recognition and how talker recognition and word processing abilities are related in early language acquisition. We will compare the speech-processing capacities of adults and infants from monolingual and bilingual (Canadian English/Canadian French) families to achieve this goal and to advance our scientific knowledge of bilingual acquisition. We will assess talker recognition skills using both monolingual test materials (French sentences produced by French speakers; English sentences produced by English speakers) and bilingual test materials (sentences produced by bilingual speakers who mix French and English) to simulate aspects of a bilingual speech milieu. We will also test and compare infant performance in two tasks: i) talker recognition, and ii) word segmentation, a critical language-specific speech processing skill that emerges in infancy and predicts later language competence. Findings from these studies will address two competing views in the current developmental literature: the first view that information supporting talker identity and linguistic structure are closely intertwined predicts that these skills will emerge concurrently; on the other hand, the second view that talker recognition abilities bootstrap processing of linguistic structures during acquisition predicts that these skills will emerge sequentially. We will also collect detailed information on infant language input using parental report measures and the LENA (Language Environment Analysis) technology. This opportunity to relate direct measures of language exposure to infant speech processing abilities will be ground-breaking. Prior infant research has relied on indirect parental report measures to assess differences in language experience with almost no effort to verify this approach. This is an important step towards a principled understanding of how language experience shapes speech processing.

Children in Canada grow up in diverse monolingual and bilingual linguistic communities. The proposed work will help us build language acquisition models that encompass different types of learners (monolingual; bilingual) across the life span. The findings will also provide information to guide parents, educators, and clinicians responsible for shaping the language environment of very young children and can help us distinguish the effects of language diversity from indications of language disorder.

 


Dr. Susan Rvachew

SSHRC Grant (2012-2015)
"Impact of Digital Tablets on Shared Reading Interactions and Outcomes"

Principal Investigator

This project is concerned with understanding the social, cognitive and literacy implications of e-books implemented on digital tablets when used by children and adults in a shared reading context. The project has four components: (1) partnership development, (2) training and mentoring, (2) research and (4) knowledge mobilization. The project will result in e-books that are better adapted to the needs of diverse users and which are effective in the promotion of both foundational literacy skills and transferable digital competencies by children and adults.

NSERC Grant (2012-2017)
"Impact of Speech Input on Speech Production Learning"

Principal Investigator

The purpose of this research program is to understand how babies gradually learn to produce speech sounds that match those produced by the adults that they interact with on a day to day basis. We will videorecord repeated exchanges between parent and infant as the child grows older. We will submit these recordings to sophisticated acoustic analyses in order to pinpoint the age at which the infant begins to produce sounds that are acoustically similar to the parent’s speech. We are particularly interested in how the timing of the parent’s speech input to the baby influences the quality of the baby’s speech. Some parents will be asked to initiate the exchanges by introducing new words to their infants and waiting to see if the infant replies. Other parents will be asked to wait for their infant to vocalize and then imitate their infant’s sounds. Analysis of the video and audio recordings of the baby’s learning during these interactions will help us to identify critical ages and mechanisms for speech production learning during the infant period. This research will, in the long run, help us to develop improved methods for intervening with infants who have difficulty learning to talk at the expected rate.

  Ruth Ratner Miller Foundation (2015)
In supporting clinical research at the Child Phonology Laboratory

The Child Phonology Laboratory thanks the Ruth Ratner Miller Foundation for its generous donation to support our clinical research.  These funds will be used to extend the duration of the Treating Apraxia of Speech in Children (TASC) project and to incorporate ultrasound technology as an innovative approach to speech therapy into the treatment protocol.


Dr. Karsten Steinhauer

NSERC Grant (2011-2016)
"Brain signatures of nativeness in second language acquisition II"

Principal Investigator

This NSERC-funded research program uses event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to study the brain mechanisms underlying second language (L2) acquisition and processing (in both natural and ‘artificial’ languages). I am especially interested in how these mechanisms are influenced by the interaction of multiple factors. Most of our data suggest that, contra to the popular ‘critical period hypothesis’, language proficiency rather than age of L2 acquisition predicts the brain signatures, including ‘native-like’ activation patterns even in adult L2 learners that reach high proficiency. First language (L1) background seems to interfere with L2 primarily at low levels of L2 proficiency (transfer effects), but L1 grammar remains co-activated at higher levels. A recent project (with PhD student Kristina Kasparian) investigates whether and how L1 brain mechanisms change when L2-dominant immigrants start ‘losing’ their mother tongue.

SSHRC Grant (2013-2018)
"Re-evaluating the temporal dynamics of syntactic online processing: Towards an ecologically valid model"

Principal Investigator

This research program brings together an interdisciplinary team of senior and junior linguists and cognitive neuroscientists to lay the foundations for a realistic and ecologically valid neurocognitive model of real-time sentence processing in both speech and reading -- with a particular focus on syntactic aspects of language. We propose to combine behavioural measures and event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to systematically address theoretical and empirical shortcomings (experimental designs, data analyses, data interpretation) of current models. ERPs provide (1) virtually unlimited time resolution and (2) continuous data across the entire utterance, both of which are required to investigate the relevant cognitive-linguistic processes in real-time. Our proposal describes the first stages of a long-term research program. Current linguistic theory will play a crucial role in developing experiments, ensuring that data are relevant to both linguists and neuroscientists. Most studies are based on our previous work.

Motivation: Despite the crucial role of syntax in linguistic theory, the processing of syntactic information and its integration with other types of information (e.g., semantics, phonology) in real-time is only poorly understood -- and highly controversial. Current proposals range from serial "syntax-first" models that assume an encapsulated (Fodorian) syntax module in the human brain (Friederici, 1995, 2002, 2011, inspired by Frazier, 1987), to rule-governed syntax processing in a procedural memory system (Ullman, 2001; inspired by Pinker, 1999 words/rules), to interactive lexicon-based unification accounts (Hagoort, 2005; inspired by Vosse & Kempen, 2000). Arguably, the most influential neurocognitive model is the one proposed by Friederici, which has dominated the field for some sixteen years and inspired dozens of studies (with thousands of ISI citations). However, we recently argued that its core contribution, an early autonomous syntactic parsing stage reflected in ERPs by an early (100-300ms) left-anterior negativity (ELAN), may be based on flawed data, e.g., some ELAN findings seem to be artifacts (Steinhauer & Drury, 2012).

Our research program is expected to clarify a number of important issues relevant to any ecologically valid model of real-time sentence processing. The data will have implications for theoretical linguistics, psycholinguistics and the cognitive neurosciences.

FQRSC Team Grant (2015-2019)
« Perspectives neurocognitives sur l'acquisition, la perte et le traitement du langage »

Co-Investigator, Lydia White-PI

This FQRSC funded research program investigates first and second language acquisition as well as attrition (i.e., language loss in adopted children and immigrants) using a large range of behavioural and neuroscientific approaches. Developmental disorders affecting language acquisition will also be addressed.

SSHRC Insight Grant (2015-2020)
"Tracking Language Acquisition and Processing in Specific Language Impairment"

Co-Investigator, Phaedra Royle-PI

This research program will develop linguistically informed and methodologically sound event-related potential (ERP) research for a better understanding of normal and impaired language acquisition and comprehension in children with and without Specific Language Impairment (SLI).


Dr. Elin Thordardottir

SSHRC Grant (2011-2015)
"Effects of bilingual exposure on bilingual acquisition"

Principal Investigator

Bilingual and multilingual people constitute a significant proportion of the Canadian population. Many children attend school in a language different from their home language, either by choice by enrolment in immersion programs, or by necessity, due to the unavailability of schools in their language. Attitudes towards childhood bilingualism have generally become increasingly positive, due in part to research demonstrating children's ability to thrive in bilingual environments. However, not all children succeed equally well. The goal of this research program is to increase our understanding of the typical course of bilingual language acquisition in different bilingual backgrounds with an eye to better understanding how best to support bilingual acquisition. The research focuses in particular on the role of amount of input received in each language, the timing of this input (age of onset), and the status of the child's home language as a minority or majority language, providing much-needed practical information while at the same time addressing fundamental theoretical issues, namely the role of input in acquisition and the existence and timing of critical periods. The study takes advantage of the unique language context of Montreal to separately assess the impact of these factors which are confounded in most bilingual populations.

A good command of language is essential in everyday life as well as for school success. Bilingual children often experience varying degrees of difficulty as they adjust to new language environments. To judge whether individual children are developing their language at the expected pace, a normative reference base is required. Bilingual norms are severely lacking and a major difficulty in developing them is the heterogeneity of the bilingual population in terms, notably, of the amount and timing of their bilingual exposure, as well as socio-economic status. New research arising from my previous SSHRC grant has greatly contributed to clarifying the relationship between amount of bilingual exposure and performance in preschool children learning two majority languages (French and English) simultaneously. The present research extends this line of investigation to school-age children with early and late onset of bilingual exposure and from more varied language backgrounds, including majority and minority languages. Early onset has been argued to be required to avoid missing critical periods of acquisition. In contrast is the view that building a strong threshold level in the first language, and thus a later onset, is the best preparation for learning a second language. The proposed research proposes a novel approach to addressing this question by examining the effect of early and late onset times while carefully controlling amount of input. This is made possible by the rare language context of Montreal. A related question addressed is how the ability to attain near-native bilingual performance relates to amount of input and timing.

Two additional factors are addressed in this research: the influence on bilingual language learning of minority vs. majority status of the languages to be learned, as previous research suggests. Therefore, separate norms may be needed for these languages groups. Finally, previous research has indicated that executive function skills are enhanced in bilingual children, in particular in children with highly proficient life-long bilingualism. The planned research will further explore whether such a bilingual advantage is found in children with later onsets of bilingual exposure and how it relates to amount and timing of input versus bilingual proficiency attained.

RANNIS Grant (2015-2018)
"Individual variability in L2 and L2 3 learning in Iceland: the role of motivation and ability factors"

Principal Investigator

As more and more children worldwide attend school in a second language (L2), there is an urgent need to better understand the typical course of L2 development as well as how best to promote successful L2 learning. Research worldwide shows that L2 learners evidence persistent vocabulary gaps in the L2 relative to native speakers, putting them at risk for academic difficulty. Recent research in Iceland suggests that the learning of Icelandic as L2 by immigrant children proceeds at somewhat alarmingly slow rates, with over 60% of children in this population performing below the level necessary for their school work. At the same time, many of these children rate their English proficiency higher than their Icelandic proficiency, in spite of not having lived in English-speaking countries. This research will capitalize on unique aspects of the Icelandic language context to gain a better understanding of factors that influence L2 and L3 learning success. The research seeks to understand how individual differences in language learning are influenced not only by ability factors such as language processing ability, but also by factors such as motivation and self-initiated language learning activities outside of school, including internet use and participation in social media. Quantitative and qualitative methods are used to gauge performance levels and also let the children provide their own views on their needs and experiences.

COST ACTION Grant (2015-2019)
"Enhancing children's oral language skills across Europe and beyond: A collaboration focusing on intervention for children with difficulty learning their first language"

Vice Chair of the Action and co-proposer (principal proposer and Chair, James Law)

Oral language (speaking and understanding) is critical to children's development, affecting the emergence of personal, social and academic skills throughout school and into the workplace. Most children acquire such skills effortlessly but a sizeable proportion, those with Language Impairment (LI), do not. LI affects 5.8 million children and young people (0-18 years) across Europe. There is evidence for the efficacy and effectiveness of intervention to improve the language skills of these children but this information is not well disseminated and services are inconsistent across Europe. This Action will enhance the science in the field, improve the effectiveness of services for children with LI and develop a sustainable network of researchers well placed to answer the key questions in this area.

The Action will have 3 Working Groups comprising established/ early stage researchers and practitioners:

  1. The linguistic and psychological underpinnings of interventions;
  2. The delivery of interventions for LI;
  3. The social and cultural context of intervention for children with LI.

This activity has never been attempted before despite there being services for these children in all European countries. The COST framework is the ideal mechanism for catalysing activity to promote research collaboration and produce to high quality outputs.

FQRSC Team Grant (2015-2019)
« Perspectives neurocognitives sur l'acquisition, la perte et le traitement du langage »

Co-Investigator, Lydia White-PI

This FQRSC funded research program investigates first and second language acquisition as well as attrition (i.e., language loss in adopted children and immigrants) using a large range of behavioural and neuroscientific approaches. Developmental disorders affecting language acquisition will also be addressed.