Anna Theakston

Anna Theakston
The University of Manchester · Division of Human Communication Development & Hearing

About

93
Publications
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3,339
Citations
Citations since 2017
31 Research Items
1560 Citations
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2017201820192020202120222023050100150200250300
2017201820192020202120222023050100150200250300

Publications

Publications (93)
Article
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Although strong claims have been made about museums being ideal word learning environments, these are yet to be empirically supported. In the current study, 152 four‐ to five‐year‐olds children (81‐M, 71‐F) from minority backgrounds were taught six vocabulary items either in a museum, in their classroom with museum resources, or in their classroom...
Article
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The study sought to determine the effects of a pilot home-based science intervention on deaf and typically hearing children’s conceptual understanding of science and their abilities to reason about and communicate their understanding (scientific enquiry skills). Data show that by age 5 years a science attainment gap exists between deaf children and...
Article
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This review summarises the extant literature investigating the relation between traffic-related air pollution levels in and around schools and executive functioning in primary-school-aged children. An electronic search was conducted using Web of Science, Scopus, and Education Literature Datasets databases (February 2020). Review articles were also...
Article
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Aims This study investigated three- to five-year-olds’ ability to generalise knowledge of case inflection to novel nouns in Estonian, which has complex morphology and lacks a default declension pattern. We explored whether Estonian-speaking children use similar strategies to adults, and whether they default to a preferred pattern or use analogy to...
Article
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Findings from corpus (e.g. Diessel, 2004) and comprehension (e.g. De Ruiter et al., 2018) studies show that children produce the adverbial connectives because and if long before they seem able to understand them. However, although children's comprehension is typically tested on sentences expressing the pragmatic relationship which Sweetser (1990) c...
Article
To examine whether children's acquisition of perspective-marking language supports development in their ability to reason about mental states, we conducted a longitudinal study testing whether proficiency with complement clauses around age 3 explained variance in false-belief reasoning 6 months later. Forty-five English-speaking 2- and 3-year-olds...
Article
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Psycholinguistic research over the past decade has suggested that children's linguistic knowledge includes dedicated representations for frequently-encountered multiword sequences. Important evidence for this comes from studies of children's production: it has been repeatedly demonstrated that children's rate of speech errors is greater for word se...
Article
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We analysed both structural and functional aspects of sentences containing the four adverbials “after”, “before”, “because”, and “if” in two dense corpora of parent-child interactions from two British English-acquiring children (2;00–4;07). In comparing mothers’ and children's usage we separate out the effects of frequency, cognitive complexity and...
Article
Assessment of deaf children has found that their early understanding in science is behind that of their hearing peers. Research shows that parental attitudes and behaviours can affect educational outcomes but few studies have considered the effects of attitudes towards science on parent/child interactions in the home and thus, the effects on attain...
Preprint
We analysed both structural and functional aspects of sentences containing the four adverbials “after”, “before”, “because”, and “if” in two dense corpora of parent-child interactions from two British English-acquiring children (2;00 – 4;07). In comparing mothers’ and children’s usage we separate out the effects of frequency, cognitive complexity a...
Article
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Subject relative clauses (SRCs) are typically processed more easily than object relative clauses (ORCs), but this difference is diminished by an inanimate head‐noun in semantically non‐reversible ORCs (“The book that the boy is reading”). In two eye‐tracking experiments, we investigated the influence of animacy on online processing of semantically...
Article
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Psychological scientists have become increasingly concerned with issues related to methodology and replicability, and infancy researchers in particular face specific challenges related to replicability: For example, high-powered studies are difficult to conduct, testing conditions vary across labs, and different labs have access to different infant...
Article
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During language acquisition children generalise at multiple layers of granularity. Ambridge argues that abstraction-based accounts suffer from lumping (over-general abstractions) or splitting (over-precise abstractions). Ambridge argues that the only way to overcome this conundrum is in a purely exemplar/analogy-based system in which generalisation...
Article
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Understanding complex sentences that contain multiple clauses referring to events in the world and the relations between them is an important development in children's language learning. A number of theoretical positions have suggested that factors like syntactic structure (clause order), iconicity (whether the order of clauses reflects the order o...
Article
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Languages differ in how they encode causal events, placing greater or lesser emphasis on the agent or patient of the action. Little is known about how these preferences emerge and the relative influence of cognitive biases and language-specific input at different stages in development. In these studies, we investigated the emergence of sentence pre...
Article
In two studies we investigated the relation between information structure and argument omission in German child language in order to quantify to what extent the subject-object hypothesis (i.e., subjects are omitted more often than objects) is influenced by discourse pragmatics. Twenty-four children took part in an elicited production study in which...
Conference Paper
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Subject-auxiliary inversion in interrogatives has been a topic of great interest in language acquisition research, and has often been held up as evidence for the structure-dependence of grammar. Usage-based and nativist approaches posit different representations and processes underlying children's question formation and therefore predict different...
Article
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The aim of this large-scale, preregistered, cross-linguistic study was to mediate between theories of the acquisition of inflectional morphology, which lie along a continuum from rule-based to analogy-based. Across three morphologically rich languages (Polish, Finnish and Estonian), 120 children (mean age 48.32 months, SD = 7.0 months) completed an...
Article
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The aim of the present work was to develop a computational model of how children acquire inflectional morphology for marking person and number; one of the central challenges in language development. First, in order to establish which putative learning phenomena are sufficiently robust to constitute a target for modelling, we ran large-scale elicite...
Article
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Gestures are the first signs of intentional communication within prelinguistic infants and can reflect various motives, including a declarative motive to share attention and interest. The ability to use gestures declaratively has been linked to later language development; therefore, it is important to understand the origins of this motive. Previous...
Article
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The statutory inclusion of modern foreign languages (MFL) into the Key Stage 2 curriculum in England in 2014 aimed to raise the language skills of younger learners in preparation for their secondary education. This change to the curriculum has occurred at a time in which the linguistic diversity within primary schools across the country has been co...
Article
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Sentence production relies on the activation of semantic information (e.g., noun animacy) and syntactic frames that specify an order for grammatical functions (e.g., subject before object). However, it is unclear whether these semantic and syntactic processes interact and if this might change over development. We thus examined the extent to which a...
Article
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Complex sentences involving adverbial clauses appear in children's speech at about three years of age yet children have difficulty comprehending these sentences well into the school years. To date, the reasons for these difficulties are unclear, largely because previous studies have tended to focus on only sub-types of adverbial clauses, or have te...
Article
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Theoretical and empirical reasons suggest that children build their language not only out of individual words but also out of multiunit strings. These are the basis for the development of schemas containing slots. The slots are putative categories that build in abstraction while the schemas eventually connect to other schemas in terms of both meani...
Article
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An experimental study was conducted on children aged 2;6–3;0 and 3;6–4;0 investigating the priming effect of two WANT-constructions to establish whether constructional competition contributes to English-speaking children's infinitival to omission errors (e.g., *I want ___ jump now). In two between-participant groups, children either just heard or h...
Poster
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Infants interpret actions as goal directed (Hunnius & Bekkering, 2010) and are also sensitive to ostensive communication (Csibra, 2010). When ostensively addressed, infants perceive the informative content of the communication as relevant, meaningful and generalisable (Csibra & Gergely, 2009). In the following study we ask whether ostensive communi...
Article
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The ability to share and direct attention is a pre-requisite to later language development and has been predominantly studied through infant pointing. Precursors to pointing, such as showing and giving gestures, may display similar communication skills, yet these gestures are often overlooked. This may be due to difficulty in discerning these gestu...
Article
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The seminal Marshmallow Test (Mischel & Ebbesen, 1970) has reliably demonstrated that children who can delay gratification are more likely to be emotionally stable and successful later in life. However, this is not good news for those children who can't delay. Therefore, this study aimed to explore whether a metacognitive therapy technique, Attenti...
Article
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Article
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In two studies we use a pointing task to explore developmentally the nature of the knowledge that underlies three- and four-year-old children's ability to assign meaning to the intransitive structure. The results suggest that early in development children are sensitive to a first-noun-as-causal-agent cue and animacy cues when interpreting conjoined...
Article
We provide an analysis of holdout and giving (Ho&G) behaviours in prelinguistic infants and investigate their relationship with index finger pointing. The frequency of Ho&Gs at 10 and 11 months along with the length of the following social interaction correlated with index finger pointing at 12 months. We conclude that Ho&Gs are a precursor to inde...
Article
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ABSTRACT This review article presents evidence for the claim that frequency effects are pervasive in children's first language acquisition, and hence constitute a phenomenon that any successful account must explain. The article is organized around four key domains of research: children's acquisition of single words, inflectional morphology, simple...
Article
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Authors' response - Volume 42 Issue 2 - BEN AMBRIDGE, EVAN KIDD, CAROLINE F. ROWLAND, ANNA THEAKSTON
Article
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Productivity is a central concept in the study of language and language acquisition. As a test case for exploring the notion of productivity, we focus on the noun slots of verb frames, such as __want__, __see__, and __get__. We develop a novel combination of measures designed to assess both the flexibility and creativity of use in these slots. We d...
Article
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Around the age of nine months, children start to communicate by using first words and gestures, during interactions with caregivers. The question remains as to how older preschool children utilise the gestures they observe into their own gestural representations of previously unseen objects. Two accounts of gesture production (the ‘gesture learning...
Article
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Although a fair amount is known about young children's production of negation, little is known about their comprehension. Here, we focus on arguably the most complex basic form, denial, and how young children understand denial, when it is expressed in response to a question with gesture, single word, or sentence. One hundred twenty-six children in...
Article
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Gesture is an important precursor of children's early language development, for example, in the transition to multiword speech and as a predictor of later language abilities. However, it is unclear whether gestural input can influence children's comprehension of complex grammatical constructions. In Study 1, 3- (M = 3 years 5 months) and 4-year-old...
Article
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This paper investigates discourse effects on the provision of both subjects and objects and investigates whether pragmatic discourse features govern the realization/omission of both constituents alike. In an elicitation study, we examined how the discourse-pragmatic feature contrast , as applied to the subject, verb, or object of a transitive utter...
Article
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English and many other languages allow flexible ordering of main and subordinate clauses in complex sentences. Processing, discourse-pragmatics, and semantics have an impact on the ordering of information. Three-year-olds, 5-year-olds, and adults heard complex sentences containing main and subordinate clauses with differing informational status. Us...
Chapter
Data collection is an important part of language research.
Article
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In this study, 5-year-olds and adults described scenes that differed according to whether (a) the subject or object of a transitive verb represented an accessible or inaccessible referent, consistent or inconsistent with patterns of preferred argument structure, and (b) a simple noun was sufficient to uniquely identify an inaccessible referent. Res...
Article
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This paper investigates whether an abstract linguistic construction shows the kind of prototype effects characteristic of non-linguistic categories, in both adults and young children. Adapting the prototype-plus-distortion methodology of Franks and Bransford (1971), we found that whereas adults were lured toward false-positive recognition of senten...
Article
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In the current paper, we examine the degree to which a 2-year-old Polishspeaking child exhibits productivity in her use of noun morphology. Using densely collected naturalistic data (five recording sessions per week) we assess the range of noun inflections she produces, the degree of productivity in her use of individual nouns, and the contextual p...
Article
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In this study, we test a number of predictions concerning children's knowledge of the transitive Subject-Verb-Object (SVO) construction between two and three years on one child (Thomas) for whom we have densely collected data. The data show that the earliest SVO utterances reflect earlier use of those same verbs, and that verbs acquired before 2;7...
Article
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This paper examines the suggestion that infinitival to omission errors in English-speaking children can result from competition between two constructions (Kirjavainen et al. 2009a). Kirjavainen et al. suggested that the acquisition of two (or more) constructions (e.g. WANT-X and WANT-to) for verbs taking to-infinitival complement clauses can lead t...
Article
The two main models of children's acquisition of inflectional morphology—the Dual-Mechanism approach and the usage-based (schema-based) approach—have both been applied mainly to languages with fairly simple morphological systems. Here we report two studies of 2–3-year-old Polish children's ability to generalise across case-inflectional endings on n...
Article
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Case marking in English in available only on some pronouns and only in some cases. It is unknown whether young children acquiring English nevertheless make use of this highly restricted marking as a cue to sentence interpretation. The current study therefore examined how 2- and 3-year-old English children use case-marked pronoun frames and construc...
Article
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The question of how and when English-speaking children acquire auxiliaries is the subject of extensive debate. Some researchers posit the existence of innately given Universal Grammar principles to guide acquisition, although some aspects of the auxiliary system must be learned from the input. Others suggest that auxiliaries can be learned without...
Article
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The study of auxiliary acquisition is central to work on language development and has attracted theoretical work from both nativist and constructivist approaches. This study is part of a 2-part companion set that represents a unique attempt to trace the development of auxiliary syntax by using a longitudinal elicitation methodology. The aim of the...
Article
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A number of researchers have claimed that questions and other constructions with long distance dependencies (LDDs) are acquired relatively early, by age 4 or even earlier, in spite of their complexity. Analysis of LDD questions in the input available to children suggests that they are extremely stereotypical, raising the possibility that children l...
Article
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Infinitival-to omission errors (e.g., *I want hold Postman Pat) are produced by many English-speaking children early in development. This article aims to explain these omissions by investigating the emergence of infinitival-to, and its production/omission in obligatory contexts. A series of corpus analyses were conducted on the naturalistic data fr...
Article
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This study tests accounts of co-reference errors whereby children allow ''Mama Bear'' and ''her'' to co-refer in sentences like ''Mama Bear is washing her'' (Chien and Wexler 1990). 63 children aged 4;6, 5;6 and 6;6 participated in a truth-value judgment task augmented with a sentence pro- duction component. There were three major finding: 1) contr...
Article
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English-speaking children make pronoun case errors producing utterances where accusative pronouns are used in nominative contexts (me do it). We investigate whether complex utterances in the input (Let me do it) might explain the origin of these errors. Longitudinal naturalistic data from seventeen English-speaking two- to four-year-olds was search...
Article
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Children pass through a stage in development when they produce utterances that contain auxiliary BE (he's playing) and utterances where auxiliary BE is omitted (he playing). One explanation that has been put forward to explain this phenomenon is the presence of questions in the input that model S-V word order (Theakston, Lieven & Tomasello, 2oo3)....
Article
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The study investigates the development of English multiword negation, in particular the negation of zero marked verbs (e.g. no sleep, not see, can't reach) from a usage-based perspective. The data was taken from a dense database consisting of the speech of an English-speaking child (Brian) aged 2;3-3;4 (MLU 2.05-3.1) and his mother. The focus of th...
Article
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Using the weird word order methodology (Akhtar, 1999), we investigated children's understanding of SVO word order in French, a language with less consistent argument ordering patterns than English. One hundred and twelve French children (ages 2; 10 and 3; 9) heard either high or low frequency verbs modelled in either SOV or VSO order (both ungramma...
Article
Anna Theakston is a child language researcher based in Manchester, United Kingdom. She has lectured in Developmental Psychology since 2000, after receiving her Ph.D. in 1998. Her research interests focus on children's early acquisition of grammar and include the role of input in children's early language acquisition, and the process of abstraction...
Article
How do English-speaking children inflect nouns for plurality and verbs for the past tense? We assess theoretical answers to this question by considering errors of omission, which occur when children produce a stem in place of its inflected counterpart (e.g., saying "dress" to refer to 5 dresses). A total of 307 children (aged 3;11-9;9) participated...
Article
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This study investigated different accounts of children's acquisition of non-subject wh-questions. Questions using each of 4 wh-words (what, who, how and why), and 3 auxiliaries (BE, DO and CAN) in 3sg and 3pl form were elicited from 28 children aged 3;6-4;6. Rates of noninversion error (Who she is hitting?) were found not to differ by wh-word, auxi...
Article
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Choosing appropriate referring expressions requires assessing whether a referent is “available” to the addressee either perceptually or through discourse. In Study 1, we found that 3- and 4-year-olds, but not 2-year-olds, chose different referring expressions (noun vs. pronoun) depending on whether their addressee could see the intended referent or...
Article
In many cognitive domains, learning is more effective when exemplars are distributed over a number of sessions than when they are all presented within one session. The present study investigated this distributed learning effect with respect to English-speaking children's acquisition of a complex grammatical construction. Forty-eight children aged 3...
Article
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In our recent paper, ‘Semantic generality, input frequency and the acquisition of syntax’ ( Journal of Child Language 31 , 61–99), we presented data from two-year-old children to examine the question of whether the semantic generality of verbs contributed to their ease and stage of acquisition over and above the effects of their typically high freq...