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Picture of Virginia Valian
Photo credited to: Frank Fournier
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Links Little Linguist Lab | Gender Equity Project |
Tutorials for Change: Gender Schemas and Science Careers


Current research in the Language Acquisition Research Center (LARC) investigates knowledge and use of language in young monolingual English speakers (two- and three-year-olds), bilingual children (four- to eight-year-olds), and second language learners (four- to eight-year-olds and adults). For more information about on-going projects, see www.hunter.cuny.edu/littlelinguist. Internships for all projects are available.

LARC looks at children's knowledge of syntactic categories like Noun and Determiner, syntactic features like Tense and Person, syntactic relations like subject and object, and syntactic structures such as questions and the passive. We use a variety of methods and investigate a range of languages. Our methods include observation of spontaneous speech, elicited imitation, comprehension (via pointing or act-out tasks), grammatical judgments, and modeling; we also use Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) with adults. Our single-language studies include English, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, and Bulgarian; our second-language and bilingual studies include Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and several other languages.

LARC's recent results demonstrate that English-speaking two-year-olds a) have abstract syntactic representations for Determiners (with Solt and Stewart, in press in Journal of Child Language), b) have abstract syntactic representations for Tense separately from Aspect (Language Learning and Development, 2006), c) represent the semantic-cognitive structure that holds between a Verb and its Direct Object with consequences for the child's ability to produce verbs in particular (with Sandeep Prasada and Jodi Scarpa, Journal of Child Language, 2006), d) benefit from modest intervention when it is focused on a single structure (with Lyman Casey, Journal of Child Language, 2003), and e) produce subjects less when processing demands are high (with Stephanie Aubry, Journal of Child Language, 2005). English-speaking 3-year-olds, as Giulia Bencini and I discovered by using syntactic priming, abstractly represent the passive voice (Journal of Memory and Language, 2008).

LARC also studies children learning languages other than English. Lidiya Tornyova finds that two-year-old Bulgarian children acquire wh-questions earlier than English-speaking children do. Iris Elisha finds that two-year-old Hebrew-speaking children show mastery of the system of subjects from the beginning of acquisition.

LARC's goal is a model of the acquisition process, specifying the initial syntactic building blocks, the learning process - which we conceive as a mapping problem - and the role of cognitive and pragmatic factors in performance.

For work on gender equity, see www.hunter.cuny.edu/gendertutorial and www.hunter.cuny.edu/genderequity.


Publications || Abstracts || Internships || Research Lab
Why So Slow?: Contents || Synopsis || Reviews || Webcasts
Links: Little Linguist Lab || Gender Equity Project || Tutorials for Change: Gender Schemas and Science Careers

Books

Valian, V. (1998). Why so slow? The advancement of women. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press.
Valian, V. (in press). Input and innateness: Controversies in language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Bradford books/M.I.T. Press.

Representative papers and chapters on language

Valian, V., Solt, S., & Stewart, J. (2009). Abstract categories or limited-scope formulae: The case of children's determiners. Journal of Child Language. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (2009). Innateness and learnability. In E. Bavin (Ed.), Handbook of Child Language (pp. 15-34). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (2009). Abstract linguistic representations and innateness: The development of determiners. In W.D. Lewis, S.Karimi, H. Harley, & S. Farrar. (Eds.), Time and Again: Theoretical Perspectives on Formal Linguistics in Honor of D. Terence Langendoen (pp: 189-206). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [abstract] [full text]
Bencini, G. M. L., & Valian, V. (2008). Abstract sentence representation in 3-year-olds: Evidence from comprehension and production. Journal of Memory and Language, 59, 97-113. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V., Prasada, S., & Scarpa, J. (2006). Direct object predictability: effects on young children’s imitation of sentences. Journal of Child Language, 33, 247-269. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (2006). Young children's understanding of present and past tense. Language Learning and Development, 2, 251-276. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V., & Aubry, S. (2005). When opportunity knocks twice: two-year-olds' repetition of sentence subjects. Journal of Child Language, 32, 617-641. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. & Casey, L. (2003). Young children's acquisition of wh-questions: The role of structured input. Journal of Child Language, 30, 117-143. [abstract] [full text]
Grant, J., Valian, V., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2002). A study of relative clauses in Williams syndrome.Journal of Child Language, 29, 403-416. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1999). Input and language acquisition.  In W. C. Ritchie & T. K. Bhatia (Eds.), Handbook of Child Language Acquisition (pp. 497-530).  New York: Academic Press. [full text]
Valian, V. (1999). Rethinking learning: comments on Rethinking innateness. Journal of Child Language, 26, 248-253. [full text]
Valian V. & Eisenberg, Z. (1996). The development of syntactic subjects in Portuguese-speaking children. Journal of Child Language, 23, 103-128. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V., Hoeffner, J., & Aubry, S. (1996). Young children's imitation of sentence subjects: evidence of processing limitations. Developmental Psychology, 2, 153-164. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. & Levitt, A. (1996). Prosody and adults' learning of syntactic structure. Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 497-516. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1994). Children's postulation of null subjects: Parameter setting and language acquisition. In B. Lust, G. Hermon, & J. Kornfilt (Eds.), Syntactic Theory and First Language Acquisition: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives. Vol. 2: Binding, dependencies, and learnability (pp. 273-286).  Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1991). Syntactic subjects in the early speech of American and Italian children. Cognition, 40, 21-81. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1990). Null subjects: A problem for parameter setting models of language acquisition. Cognition, 35, 105-122. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. & Coulson, S. (1988). Anchor points in language learning: the role of marker frequency. Journal of Memory and Language, 27, 71-86. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1986). Syntactic categories in the speech of young children. Developmental Psychology, 22, 562-579 [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1981). Linguistic knowledge and language acquisition. Cognition, 10, 323-329. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1980). Listening and clarity of syntactic structure. Journal of Phonetics, 8, 327-334. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1979). What children say when asked "what?": A study of the use of syntactic knowledge. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 28, 424-444. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V. (1979). The wherefores and therefores of the competence-performance distinction. In W.E. Cooper and E.C.T. Walker (Eds.), Sentence processing: Psycholinguistic studies presented to Merrill Garrett (pp.1-26). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erbaum. [abstract] [full text]
Erreich, A. & Valian, V. & Winzemer, J. (1978). Aspects of a theory of language acquisition. Child Language, 7, 157-179. [abstract] [full text]
Valian, V., & Wales, R. (1976). What's what: talkers help listeners hear and understand by clarifying sentential relations. Cognition, 4, 155-176 [abstract] [full text]

Representative papers and chapters on gender

Rabinowitz, V. C. & Valian, V. (2007). Beyond mentoring: A sponsorship program to improve women's success. In A. Stewart, J. Malley and D. LaVaque-Manty (Eds.), Transforming science and engineering: Advancing academic women (pp.96-115). Ann Arbor, MI. The University of Michigan Press. [full text]
Valian, V. (2006). Women at the top in science - and elsewhere. In S. Ceci and W. Williams (Eds.), Why Aren't More Women in Science? (pp.27-37). Washington, D.C. American Psychological Association Press. [full text]
Valian, V. (2005). Beyond gender schemas: Improving the advancement of women in academia. Hypatia, 20, 198-213. [full text]
Valian, V. (2000). The advancement of women in science and engineering. In Women in the chemical workforce: A workshop report to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable (pp 24-37). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. . [full text] [full text on-line]
Rabinowitz, V. C. & Valian, V. (2000). Sex, sex differences, and social behavior. In D. LeCroy & P. Moller (Eds.), Evolutionary perspectives on human reproductive behavior (pp. 196-207). Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. [full text]
Valian, V. (1999). The cognitive bases of gender bias. Brooklyn Law Review, 65, 1037-1061. (Lead presentation of a roundtable with three commentators.) [full text]
Valian, V. (1998). Running in place. The Sciences, 38, 18-23. [full text]
Valian, V. (September/October 1998). Sex, schemas, and success: what's keeping women back? Academe, 84, 50-55. [full text]

Representative papers and chapters on work

Valian, V. (1985). Solving a work problem. In M.F. Fox (Ed.), Scholarly writing and publishing: Issues, problems, and solutions (pp. 99-110). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. [full text]
Valian, V. (1977). Learning to work. In S. Ruddick & P. Daniels (Eds.), Working it out: 23 women writers, artists, scientists, and scholars talk about their lives and work (pp. 162-178). New York, NY: Pantheon Books. [full text]


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Why So Slow?Contents || Synopsis || Reviews || Webcasts
Links:  Little Linguist Lab || Gender Equity Project || Tutorials for Change: Gender Schemas and Science Careers

WHY SO SLOW? THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN

(for reviews see:  www.amazon.com  ||  Related links )
Preface ix
Acknowledgments xiii
A note on method and scope xv
1 Gender schemas at work 1
2 Gender begins - and continues - at home 23
3 Learning about gender 47
4 Biology and behavior 67
5 Biology and cognition 81
6 Schemas that explain behavior 103
7 Evaluating women and men 125
8 Effects on the self 145
9 Interpreting success and failure 167
10 Women in the professions 187
11 Women in academia 217
12 Professional performance and human values 251
13 Affirmative action and the law 277
14 Remedies 303
Notes 333
References 353
Author Index 385
Subject Index 393
Hardback Cover: Why So Slow?Paperback Cover: Why So Slow?
        Hardback                    Paperback

Synopsis:

WHY SO SLOW?
The Advancement of Women

Why do so few women occupy positions of power and prestige?  This book uses concepts and data from psychology, sociology, economics, and biology to explain the disparity in the professional advancement of men and women.  The claim is that men and women alike have implicit hypotheses about gender differences - gender schemas - that create small sex differences in characteristics, behaviors, perceptions, and evaluations of men and women. Those small imbalances accumulate to advantage men and disadvantage women.  The most important consequence of gender schemas for professional life is that men tend to be overrated and women underrated.

Although most men and women in the professions sincerely hold egalitarian beliefs, those beliefs alone cannot guarantee impartial evaluation and treatment of others.  Only by understanding how our perceptions are skewed by gender schemas can we begin to perceive ourselves and others accurately.  The goal in Why So Slow? is to make the invisible factors that retard women's progress visible so that fair treatment of men and women will be possible. The book makes its case with experimental and observational data from laboratory and field studies of children and adults, and with statistical documentation on men and women in the professions.  The many anecdotal examples throughout provide a lively counterpoint.



Reviews & Interviews

Angier, N.  (1998, August 25).  Exploring the gender gap and the absence of equality.  New York Times. (Registration Required) http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/082598sci-valian.html
Chihara, M.  (1998, July 16).  The bundle in the purple blanket. New Haven Advocate.
Chihara, M.  (1998, July 16).  Walking on broken glass.  New Haven Advocate.
Doyle, R. (2000, April). By the numbers: Women and the professions.  Scientific American, 282(4). http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000B3831-3942-1C75-9B81809EC588EF21&pageNumber=1&catID=2
Ettenheim, S. G.  (1999, Mar 12) Book review: Why so slow? (Part I).  Cybergrrl. http://www.cybergrrl.com/fs.jhtml?/fun/bookgrrl/art1863/
Bergsma, A. (1999, January 18) Virginia Valian. Psychologie Magazine. [full text]
Gingrich, J.  (2000, March 16).  Author: Women's movement too slow.  The Michigan Daily, 110(95). http://www.pub.umich.edu/daily/2000mar/03-16-2000/news/06.html
Kessel, C.  (1999, Spring) Book review: Why so slow?.  WAGE Newsletter, 7(1). http://www.wage.org/doc/text/11book.html
Koerner, B. I.  (1999, April 5).  The boy's club persist.  MIT acknowledges it has a female problem: discrimination.  US News and World Report.
Shalizi, C. R. (1999, June 15).  Book review: Why so slow?.  The Bactra Review, 88. http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/reviews/why-so-slow/
Sreenivasan, J.  (1998, Spring).   Book makes case for continued need for affirmative action.  The Feminist Majority Report, 10(1).   http://www.feminist.org/research/report/94_twelve.html
Wadley, J.  (2003, October 27).  Perceptions about gender equality don't always translate into reality.  The University Record Online, University of Michigan.   10(1).   http://www.umich.edu/~urecord/0304/Oct27_03/10.shtml


Webcasts:

Valian, V.  (2001, March 29).  The Advancement of Women in Science and Engineering: Why So Slow?  Speech given at Duncan Hall, Rice University, Houston, Texas.
[ Retrieved September 15, 2003 from URL: http://www.rice.edu/webcast/speeches/20010329valian.html ]
Valian, V.  (2002, April 8).  MIT World, "Why So Slow? The Advancement of Women" Speech given at MIT School of Engineering, Cambridge, MA.
[ Retrieved September 15, 2003 from URL: http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/80/ ]
Hopkins, N., Steele, C., & Valian, V.  (2004, December 9).  Women, Work and the Academy: Strategies for Responding to ?Post-Civil Rights Era? Gender Discrimination.  Panel Discussion given at Barnard Hall, Barnard College, New York, New York.
[ Retrieved September 1, 2005 from URL: http://www.barnard.edu/crow/womenandwork/video.htm ]
Janet Jakobsen (Intro) 0:00 ? 2:47
President Judith Shapiro 2:48 ? 9:08
Alison Wylie 9:09 ? 20:37
Nancy Hopkins 20:38 ? 38:00
Wylie Intro 38:01 ? 38:37
Claude Steele 38:38 ? 1:05:05
Wylie Intro 1:05:13 ? 1:05:23
Virginia Valian 1:05:24 ? 1:30:15
Question & Answer 1:30:16 ? 1:43:38

Publications || Abstracts || Internships || Research Lab
Why So Slow?Contents || Synopsis || Reviews || Webcasts
Links:  Little Linguist Lab || Gender Equity Project || Tutorials for Change: Gender Schemas and Science Careers


Abstracts

Valian, V., Solt, S., & Stewart, J. (2009). Abstract categories or limited scope formulae: The case of children's determiners. Journal of Child Language.

Six tests of the spontaneous speech of twenty-one English-speaking children (1 ;10 to 2 ;8; MLUs 1.53 to 4.38) demonstrate the presence of the syntactic category determiner from the start of combinatorial speech, supporting nativist accounts. Children use multiple determiners before a noun to the same extent as their mothers (1) when only a and the or (2) all determiners are analyzed, or (3) when children and mothers are matched on determiner and noun types and determiner+noun tokens. (4) Overlap increases as opportunity for overlap increases: children use multiple determiners with more than 50% of nouns used at least twice with a determiner and with 80% of nouns used at least six times with a determiner. (5) Formulae play a limited role in low-MLU children’s determiner usage, INCREASING with MLU. (6) Less than 1% of determiner uses are errors. Prior results showing no overlap are likely a sampling artifact.


Valian, V. (2009). Abstract linguistic representations and innateness: The development of determiners. In W.D. Lewis, et al. (Eds.), Time and Again: Theoretical Perspectives on Formal Linguistics in Honor of D. Terence Langendoen (pp: 189-206). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

This paper uses the syntactic category of determiner to address the issue of innateness in language acquisition. Reviewing data from infants and toddlers, I propose that categories are innate and that children show continuity in category acquisition. As development proceeds, children learn the individual words in each category in the target language and the specific syntactic properties of those words, but they do not construct the categories themselves.


Valian, V. (2009). Innateness and learnability. In E. Bavin (Ed.), Handbook of Child Language (pp. 15-34). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Journal of Child Language. 33, pp.247-269

This chapter addresses five questions. (1) What is the debate between nativism and empiricism about? (2) If there is innate linguistic content, what are good candidates for it? (3) What are the arguments for and against nativism? (4) What acquisition mechanisms are there? (5) What kind of empirical evidence do we presently have that would allow us to decide whether humans innately have some linguistic knowledge?


Bencini, G. M. L., & Valian, V. (2008). Abstract sentence representation in 3-year-olds: Evidence from comprehension and production. Journal of Memory and Language, 59, 97-113.

We use syntactic priming to test the abstractness of the sentence representations of young 3-year-olds (35-42 months). In describing pictures with inanimate participants, 18 children primed with passives produced more passives (11 with a strict scoring scheme, 16 with lax scoring) than did 18 children primed with actives (2 on either scheme) or 12 children who received no priming (0). Priming was comparable to that reported for older children and adults. Comprehension of reversible passives with animate participants before and after priming was above chance but did not improve as a result of priming. Young 3-year-olds represent sentences abstractly, have syntactic representations for noun, verb, "surface subject", and "surface object", have semantic representations for "agent" and "patient", and flexibly map the relation between syntax and semantics. Taken together with research on syntactic categories in 2-year-olds, our results provide empirical support for continuity in language acquisition.


Valian, V., Prasada, S., & Scarpa, J. (2006). Direct object predictability: effects on young children’s imitation of sentences. Journal of Child Language. 33, pp.247-269

We hypothesize that the conceptual relation between a verb and its direct object can make a sentence easier ("the cat is eating some food") or harder ("the cat is eating a sock") to parse and understand. If children's limited performance systems contribute to the ungrammatical brevity of their speech, they should perform better on sentences that require fewer processing resources: children should imitate the constituents of sentences with highly predictable direct objects at a higher rate than those from sentences with less predictable objects. In Experiment 1, 24 two-year-olds performed an elicited imitation task and confirmed that prediction for all three major constituents (subject, verb, direct object). In Experiment 2, 23 two-year-olds performed both an elicited imitation task and a sticker placement task (in which they placed a sticker on the pictured subject of the sentence after hearing and imitating the sentence). Children imitated verbs more often from predictable than unpredictable sentences, but not subjects or objects. Children's inclusion of constituents is affected by the conceptual relations among those constituents as well as by task characteristics.


Valian, V. (2006). Young children's understanding of present and past tense. Language Learning and Development. 2, 251-276

Three age groups were tested for their understanding of present and past tense in the auxiliaries will and did, copula be, and progressive be. Children saw scenarios or pictures and responded to an experimenter's "show-me" requests based on the tense – non-past or past – of the verb in the request. For two groups (64 two- and 64 three-year-olds), half the children also heard
temporal adverbs. The two-year-olds successfully distinguished auxiliaries will/did and copula is/was, performing marginally on the progressive; adverbs produced no additional benefit. The three-year-olds successfully distinguished all contrasts and showed more benefit of adverbs. The nine four-year-olds performed at ceiling on all contrasts. The results suggest that knowledge of tense is neither localized to special lexical elements nor semantically based. From the beginning of combinatorial speech, children's grammars include a syntactic tense marker which is independent from aspect and the syntactic category verb.


Valian, V., & Aubry, S. (2005). When opportunity knocks twice: two-year-olds' repetition of sentence subjects. Journal of Child Language, 32, 617-641.

Why are young children’s utterances short ? This elicited imitation study used a new task – double imitation – to investigate the factors that contribute to children’s failure to lexicalize sentence subjects. Two-year-olds heard a triad of sentences singly and attempted to imitate each ; they then again heard the same triad singly and again attempted to imitate each. Comparisons between the two attempts showed that children’s second passes were more accurate than their first. In addition, independent of sentence length, children increased their inclusion of pronominal and expletive but not lexical subjects. Children included verbs more often from sentences with pronominal than lexical subjects, suggesting a trade-off. Children included subjects more often in short sentences than long ones, and increased subject inclusion only in short sentences. The results suggest that children’s language production is similar to adults’ : a complex interaction of syntactic knowledge, limited cognitive resources, communicative goals, and conversational structure.


Valian, V. & Casey, L.  (2003).  Young children's acquisition of wh-questions: The role of structured input.  Journal of Child Language, 30, 117-143.

 Two-year-olds learn language quickly but how they exploit adult input remains obscure.  Twenty-nine children aged 2;6 to 3;2, divided into three treatment groups, participated in an intervention experiment consisting of four sessions one week apart.  Pre- and post-intervention sessions were identical for all children: children heard a wh-question and attempted to repeat it; a 'talking bear' answered.  That same format was used for the two intervention sessions for children in a quasicontrol condition (Group QC). Children receiving modeling (Group M) heard a question twice before repeating it; those receiving implicit correction (Group IC) heard a question, attempted to repeat it, and heard it again.  All groups improved in supplying and inverting an auxiliary for target questions with trained auxiliaries.  Only experimental children generalized to auxiliaries on which they had not been trained.  Very little input, if concentrated but varied, and presented so that the child attends to it and attempts to parse it, is sufficient for the rapid extraction and generalization of syntactic regularities.  Children can learn even more efficiently than has been thought.


Grant, J., Valian, V., & Karmiloff-Smith, A. (2002). Is syntax intact in Williams syndrome?  A study of relative clauses.  Journal of Child Language, 29, 403-416.

Despite growing empirical evidence to the contrary, claims continue to be made that the grammar of people with Williams syndrome (WS) is intact.  We show that even in a simple elicited imitation task examining the syntax of relative clauses, older children and adults with WS (n=14, mean age = 17;0 years) only reach the level of typical five-year-old controls.  When tested systematically in a number of different laboratories, all aspects of WS language show delay and/or deviance throughout development.  We conclude that the grammatical abilities of people with WS should be described in terms of relative rather than absolute proficiency, and that the syndrome should no longer be used to bolster claims about the existence of independently functioning, innately specified modules in the human brain.


Valian V. & Levitt, A. (1996).  Prosody and Adults' Learning of Syntactic Structure.  Journal of Memory and Language, 35, 497-516.

The role of prosody in adults’ acquisition of a miniature artificial language was examined in three experiments. In Experiment 1, learners heard and repeated prerecorded sentences of the language, and simultaneously saw corresponding referents, but did not see any printed words.
Learners received four study-test trials. Half the learners heard a ‘‘single word’’ presentation, in which each of the four words of each sentence was recorded with the falling contour associated with list-final position. Half heard a ‘‘phrase prosody’’ presentation -- expected to aid learning -- in which each two-word phrase was recorded as a phrasal unit, with the first two-word phrase of each sentence having a rising contour and the second two-word phrase having a falling contour. Half the participants were given a dialect with high-frequency markers expected to aid learning, and the other half a dialect with low-frequency markers. The phrase prosody presentation did not facilitate learning. Experiment 2 removed the reference field and provided six study-test trials. Phrase prosody here facilitated performance, primarily by increasing learners’ acceptance of correct sequences. Experiment 3 removed participants’ repetition as well as the reference field and found a strong effect of phrase prosody. We propose that prosody helps recognition of correct word pairs and may be especially useful when other cues to syntactic structure are either unavailable or cannot be exploited by the learner.



Valian V. & Eisenberg, Z.  (1996).  The development of syntactic subjects in Portuguese-speaking children.  Journal of Child Language, 23, 103-128.

In order to separate competence and performance factors in acquisition of knowledge of syntactic subjects, we audiotaped and analyzed the spontaneous speech of 20 Portuguese-speaking two-year-olds in natural conversation with Portuguese-speaking adults.  We separated the children into three groups based on Mean Length of Utterance in Words: 1.5-1.99; 2.0-2.99; 3.0-4.99.  Our cross-sectional data demonstrated that Portuguese-speaking children increased their use of subjects from 28% in the lowest-MLUW group to 57% in the highest-MLUW group.  The children in the highest-MLUW group almost perfectly matched the adult speakers in the study on every measure.  The increase in the children's use of subjects was primarily due to an increase in the use of pronominal subjects.  A comparison between Portuguese- and English-speaking children suggests that adult competence about the status of subjects is present at the onset of combinatorial speech, as shown by differential production of subjects.  Each group also experiences performance limitations, as shown by the increase in subject use as development proceeds.



Valian, V., Hoeffner, J., & Aubry, S.  (1996).  Young children's imitation of sentence subjects: evidence of processing limitations.  Developmental Psychology, 32, 153-164.

Elicited imitation was used to determine whether young children's inconsistent production of sentence subjects was due to limitations in their knowledge of English or in their ability to access and use that knowledge.  Nineteen young children (age range = 1 year 10 months to 2 years 8 months; Mean Length of Utterance [MLU] range = 1.28 to 4.93) repeated sentences that varied in length, structure, and type of subject.  A competence-deficit hypothesis would predict that children below MLU 3 would differentially omit expletive subjects and subjects preceded by a discourse topic more often than children above MLU 3.  That hypothesis was disconfirmed.  A performance-deficit hypothesis would predict that children below MLU 3 would omit more subjects from long sentences than short ones, and that the high-MLU children would not show a length effect.  That hypothesis was confirmed. Processing limitations, rather than a defective grammar, explain very young children's absent subjects.



Valian, V.  (1994).  Children's postulation of null subjects: Parameter setting and language acquisition.  In B. Lust, G. Hermon, & J. Kornfilt (Eds.), Syntactic theory and first language acquisition: Cross-linguistic perspectives.  Vol. 2: Binding, dependencies, and learnability (pp. 273-286).  Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

This chapter covers three main points.  The first is that, with respect to null subjects in young children's speech, the data collected thus far indicate no point at which the grammar of U.S. children speaking Standard English (henceforth, American children) clearly licenses null subjects, and no point at which IP and CP are clearly absent.  In contrast, the grammars of children acquiring null subject languages do show clear evidence for null subjects, and, equally, show evidence at least for IP.  This is not to say that no American child ever has an incorrect grammar, but simply that the data thus far give us no grounds for claiming an incorrect grammar for most children.  The data are briefly reviewed here.

The second point is that, in order to account for the diversity as well as the commonalities in acquisition within and across languages, theories must specifically include both a competence component and a performance component, and a model of how the two interact.  Each component by itself is too weak in predictive power to handle the facts.  A corollary of this is that there is no metatheoretic reason to prefer competence-deficit explanations over performance-deficit explanations.

The third point is that children's initial state is, with respect to parameters, unset.  As I have argued in previous work (Valian, 1990a, 1990b), the child does not begin acquisition with one or another value preset; there is no default setting.  Rather, the child entertains both options on an equal footing until sufficient evidence accrues to favor one over the other, and he or she remains with that value unless and until sufficient evidence accrues to switch to another value.



Valian, V.  (1991).  Syntactic subjects in the early speech of American and Italian children.  Cognition, 40, 21-81.

Why do young children leave out sentential subjects? Two competence-deficit hypotheses and a performance-limitation account are evaluated in the present set of studies.  American children appear to understand that English requires subjects before mean length of utterance (MLU) 2.0.  On balance, performance factors account for the data best.  Natural conversations between 21 American children (ranging in age from 1;10 to 2;8 and in MLU from 1.53 to 4.38) and their mothers were taped, transcribed, and analyzed to determine when American children understand that English requires subjects.  We measured the frequency of subjects (Study 1); types of pronominal subjects, including expletives (Study 2); frequency of modals and semi-auxiliaries (Study 3); frequency of infinitival to, past tense, third person singular, and subordinate clauses (Study 4); length of verb phrase, frequency of different types of verbs, and frequency of direct objects (Study 5).  For Studies 1 and 3 we also used , for comparative purposes, transcripts of 5 Italian children, taped monthly for a year.  Even our lowest-MLU American group (5 children between 1.5 and 1.99) used subjects and pronominal subjects more than twice as often as the Italian children, and correctly case-marked their subjects.  The American children also produced examples of all the sentence elements measured.



Valian, V.  (1990).  Null subjects: A problem for parameter setting models of language acquisition.  Cognition, 35, 105-122.

Some languages, like English, require overt surface subjects, while others, like Italian and Spanish, allow "null" subjects.  How does the young child determine whether or not her language allows null subjects? Modern parameter-setting theory has proposed a solution, in which the child begins acquisition with the null subject parameter set for either the English-like value or the Italian-like value.  Incoming data, or the absence thereof, force a resetting of the parameter if the original value was incorrect.   This paper argues that the single-value solution cannot work, no matter which value is chosen as the initial one, because of inherent limitations in the child's parser, and because of the presence of misleading input. An alternative dual-value solution is proposed, in which the child begins acquisition with both values available, and uses theory-confirmation procedures to decide which value is best supported by the available data.



Valian, V. & Coulson, S.  (1988).  Anchor points in language learning: the role of marker frequency.  Journal of Memory and Language, 27, 71-86.

We examine the role of markers as anchor points in adult learning of a miniature artificial language, with and without an accompanying reference field.  Two dialects of the same language were created, differing only in number of grammatical markers and "content" words.  In the high-frequency dialect a given marker occurred six times as often as a given content word, while in the low-frequency dialect a given marker occurred one and a half times as often as a given content word.   In Experiment 1, without a reference field, subjects in the high-frequency dialect learned the structure of the language easily, but subjects in the low-frequency dialect learned only superficial properties of the language.  In Experiment 2, with a reference field, subjects in both conditions learned, but those in the high-frequency condition learned more quickly.  We propose that, with or without a reference field, learners use very high-frequency markers as anchor points for distributional analysis.  We discuss the implications of our results for first language learning.



Valian, V. (1986). Syntactic Categories in the Speech of Young Children. Developmental Psychology, 22, 562-579

Examined speech samples from 6 children (aged 2 yrs to 2 yrs 5 mo), with mean lengths of utterance (MLUs) ranging from 2.93 to 4.14, for evidence of 6 syntactic categories: determiner, adjective, noun, noun phrase, preposition, and prepositional phrase. Results indicate that all the Ss showed evidence of all categories, except for the lowest MLU S, whose performance was borderline on adjectives and prepositional phrases. It is suggested that children are sensitive early in life to abstract, formal properties of the speech they hear and must be credited with syntactic knowledge at an earlier point than heretofore generally thought. Results argue against various semantic hypotheses about the origin of syntactic knowledge. It is concluded that the methods and results may be applicable to future investigations of why children's early utterances are short, the nature of children's semantic categories, and the nature of the deviance in the speech of language-deviant children and adults.


Valian, V. (1981). Linguistic knowledge and language acquisition. Cognition, 10, 323-329.

This paper presents several hypotheses about knowledge and knowledge acquisition that are relevant to problems of language acquisition, and in terms of them assesses one aspect of the study of language acquisition and makes suggestions about future progress


Valian, V. (1980). Listening and clarity of syntactic structure. Journal of Phonetics, 8, 327-334

Listeners repeated fully grammatical sentences, exemplifying 12 linguistic constructions, heard though noise. In half the sentences the basic grammatical relations or constituent structure were more clearly displayed than in the matching versions. Although the differences in structure between the two versions were minimal (often just the presence or absence of a function word), the “clear” sentences were correctly repeated on the average 19% more often then the “distorted” sentences were. The results suggest that minor structural cues are important in listening to speech, at least under adverse conditions.
No sooner do we hear the words of a familiar language pronounced in our ears but the ideas corresponding thereto present themselves to out minds: in the very same instant the sound and the meaning enter the understanding: so closely are they united that it is not in out power to keep out the one except we exclude the other also. We even act in all respects as if we heard the very thoughts themselves. (Berkley, 1901,151, rubic51).


Valian, V. (1979). What children say when asked "what?": A study of the use of syntactic knowledge. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 28, 424-444.

The present study explores two questions: What is the nature of older children’s syntactic knowledge; how is that knowledge used in an everyday speech situation? Six-, eight-, and ten-year-olds repeated grammatical sentences as read by the first experimenter. Half the sentences were syntactically clear, half slightly distorted. Clear versions displayed basic grammatical relations and constituent structure perspicuously. The second experimenter, who sat at the other end of the room, asked “what?” after each sentence. The syntactic changes children might make to accommodate the listener were examined. Although the children made a variety of changes, at all ages they tended to change distorted versions to clear ones, and to repeat clear versions. The results suggest that children’s syntactic knowledge is deeper and more accessible than had been supposed.


Valian, V. (1979). The wherefores and therefores of the competence-performance distinction. In W.E. Cooper and E.C.T. Walker (Eds.), Sentence Processing: Psycholinguistic Dtudies Presented to Merrill Garrett (pp. 1-26). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erbaum

How has it happened that the competence-performance distinction has come to be seen as invalid, or if valid, irrelevant, or if relevant, actually harmful to psycholinguistic research? This paper suggest three reasons for the present obloquy of the competence-performance distinction. (a) The grammar of a language does not have an automatic performance interpretation. That is, a model of competence does not contain a specification of a model of performance and does not entail a particular model of performance. (b) Candidate grammars keep changing. (c) In response to these two difficulties, psycholinguistics have attempted to specify performance independently of competence. To the extent that they have been successful and performance is unnecessary and that competence itself is not a useful notion.



Erreich, A. & Valian, V. & Winzemer, J. (1978). Aspects of a theory of language acquisition. Child Language, 7, 157-179

This paper presents a hypothesis-testing theory of syntax acquisition. The first section presents our model. We claim that: (I) children learn a transformational grammar, including a set of phrase structure and transformational rules; (2) linguistic universals and Occam’s razor constrain the initial hypothesis space available to the device; (3) hypotheses tested by the device consist of candidate phrase structure and transformational rules; (4) linguistics evidence confirms or disconfirms hypotheses. Specific examples of incorrect phrase structure and transformational hypotheses are presented.
The second section briefly surveys other approaches to language acquisition both syntactic and non-syntactic-and compares them to our model. In the third section, we address several methodological issues: (I) the relevance of linguistic theory to the model: (2) how the model is tested; (3) the domain of the theory.


Valian, V. & W. Roger. (1976). What's what: talkers help listeners hear and understand by clarifying sentential relations. Cognition, 4, 155-176

It was predicted that a talker would clarify the sentential relations of an utterance if a listener indicated difficulty in hearing and understanding. Subjects read syntactically clear and distorted sentences to a listener (cxperirnenter) in un adjoining room. The experimenter often asked “What?” Subjects changed distorted versions to clear versions, while repeating clear versions essentially as first read. Other subjects were asked to make the sentences clear and simple to understand. The same basic results were obtained. Talkers thus seem to interpret a “What?” partly as a request for clearer sentential relations und respond accordingly. The results indicate that talkers have knowledge of underlying structure. Several alternate explanations can be rejected. A relative derivational theory of complexity, is presented.


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LANGUAGE ACQUISITION RESEARCH CENTER
GENDER AND COGNITION PROJECT
GENDER EQUITY PROJECT

Internships
New York City

A limited number of internships are available. Internships may be full-time or half-time, and have a minimum duration of 6 weeks. Three projects are currently underway: first and second language acquisition; gender differences in mathematics; gender and advancement in science. To explore children's syntactic development we a) record, transcribe, and analyze natural speech between children and their parents; b) ask children to imitate different sentences and actions; c) examine comprehension of different types of sentences. To explore second language learners' development we employ similar methods, but also measure judgments of grammaticality and performance in a Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP) task. To compare two-year-olds and native speakers, we employ a variety of techniques.

Interns participate fully and receive training in the various facets of the work: testing and audiotaping children and adults; transcribing children's and adults' speech into a computer; calculating the average length of the children's and adults' utterances; developing test materials; scoring data. In addition, interns attend laboratory meetings in which we discuss the theoretical background of the research, methodological and ethical principles of research, and specific solutions to problems that arise in the course of the studies. Supervision and training are provided by Dr. Valian.

Since the project requires constant contact with parents, caregivers, children, and a diverse group of adults, it is essential that interns be personally mature, able to understand and accommodate the concerns and needs of children and adults, and work well with children, their parents, and other adults. In addition, since the research requires coordination of many different activities, interns must be highly organized and reliable. Finally, transcription of speech requires patience and perfectionism.

For the gender and advancement in science project, interns perform library research, help create tutorials and manuals, and examine data on the representation of women in various fields of science and mathematics.

Desirable background experience would include: course work in cognitive, developmental, and experimental psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, and language acquisition; basic computer skills; presentation software; previous research experience.

Apply to be an intern via email ( little.linguist@hunter.cuny.edu for the Language Acquisition Research Center and gender.equity@hunter.cuny.edu for the Gender Equity Project). Your cover letter should specifically address the characteristics listed in the description just given. Also include a list of relevant courses and your grade in each; previous work with young children if that is relevant to the internship you are applying for; computer experience; research experience; overall GPA; SAT or GRE scores. Ask one faculty member to write a letter of recommendation and send it via email; the faculty member should include a phone number where he or she can be reached.

Email address: little.linguist@hunter.cuny.edu
Address: Dr. Virginia Valian, Department of Psychology,
Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10021.


Last update: October 18, 2006