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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. 

Research student supervision

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 2021

Research Output 1991 2018

An introduction to language

Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., Hyams, N., Amberber, M., Cox, F. & Thornton, R., 2018, 9th ed. South Melbourne, Vic.: Cengage Learning. 610 p.

Research output: Book/ReportTextbookResearch

learning objective

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 journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Cleft sentences and reconstruction in child language

Thornton, R., Kiguchi, H. & D'Onofrio, E., Jun 2018, In : Language. 94, 2, p. 405-431 27 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

value judgement

Differences in scope assignments for children and adult speakers of Mandarin

Gao, N., Thornton, R., Zhou, P. & Crain, S., Dec 2018, In : Journal of Psycholinguistic Research. 47, 6, p. 1219–1241 23 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

value judgement

Elicited production of past tense affirmative and negative sentences in young children

Thornton, R., D'Onofrio, E. & Rombough, K., May 2018, BUCLD 42: Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development. Bertolini, A. B. & Kaplan, M. J. (eds.). Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press, Vol. 2. p. 764-776 14 p. (BUCLD Proceedings).

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionResearchpeer-review

Open Access