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Personal profile

Research interests

Child language, acquisition of morphology, syntax and semantics, language development in children with language delay (specific language impairment)


I study children's acquisition of language, in particular, their acquisition of grammatical structures (syntax) and sentence meanings (semantics). My research is conducted within the framework of Chomsky's 'Universal Grammar'. The goal of my research is to understand which aspects of children's knowledge of language are in place at birth, and which aspects are learned over time from the environment. To understand children's developing grammars, I do experiments with young children. Recently, I have also been studying the grammars of children with language delay, sometimes termed specific language impairment.

I am a CI in the Language Program of the ARC Centre of Cognition and its Disorders and Director of the Centre for Language Sciences. Within the Linguistics department, I am Research Director. 


I am available as an MRes or PhD supervisor for projects in child language acquisition, especially in children's morphological, syntactic and semantic knowledge. I would also consider supervision of projects working with special populations of chlldren on these areas of linguistic knowledge.

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Projects 2006 2017

Centre for Language Sciences (CLaS)

Thornton, R., Crain, S., Peters, P., Cupples, L., Johnston, T., Nickels, L., McMahon, C., Johnson, M., Armstrong, B., Cox, F., Harrison, R., Mannell, R., Napier, J., Newall, P., Rieschild, V., Slatyer, H., Tent, J., Lising, J., Mollering, M., Winchester-Seeto, T., Jensen, B., Palethorpe, S. & Tesan, G.

1/07/07 → …

Project: Research

Appointments and Schedules

Tobii eye-tracker for testing infants and young children

Demuth, K., Grant, K., McMahon, C., Crain, S., Thornton, R., Sharma, M., Cox, F., Tsukada, K., Zhou, P. & Moscati, V.


Project: Research

Research Output 1991 2018

Children’s interpretation of disjunction in negative sentences: a comparison of Turkish and German

Geçkin, V., Thornton, R. & Crain, S. 2018 In : Language Acquisition. 25, 2, p. 197-212 16 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Differences in scope assignments for children and adult speakers of Mandarin

Gao, N., Thornton, R., Zhou, P. & Crain, S. 5 Feb 2018 In : Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

value judgement
Specific Language Impairment
Child Language

C-command in the grammars of children with high functioning autism

Khetrapal, N. & Thornton, R. 28 Mar 2017 In : Frontiers in Psychology. 8, p. 1-15 15 p., 402

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
Autistic Disorder
Research Personnel
Autism Spectrum Disorder

Language acquisition from a biolinguistic perspective

Crain, S., Koring, L. & Thornton, R. Oct 2017 In : Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 81, Part B, p. 120-149 30 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Child Language