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Infants’ early understanding of word meaning

Project Description

While children begin to say their first words around 12 months of age, there is evidence that they start to understand the meaning of common words much earlier in development, suggesting that infants have already started to build a vocabulary. This project will examine that early window, between 6 and 12 months to determine how infants first begin to map words to their meanings. Specific studies may examine the role of parental input, they types of words in infants’ early vocabulary, and whether individual differences in cognitive or social skills influence the size of the early vocabulary.

This PhD will build on previous work to further our understanding of children’s representations of word meanings and will consist of a number of related studies. Methods may include natural corpus work, experimental behavioural studies, eye-tracking, and EEG.

As well as this specific project, applications are invited from students interested in pursuing research in any aspect of early language or conceptual development in typically developing infants and young children. Applicants may submit a specific research proposal in one of these areas, or get in touch to explore possible topics for developing a full proposal.

Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a 1st class or high 2;1 undergraduate degree or equivalent in Psychology, Linguistics, or a related discipline. A Masters in Psychology, Linguistics or related disciplines is an advantage. Applicants who are considering completing a Masters in Research (MRes Psychology) prior to starting a PhD are also welcome. For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.”

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Bergelson, E., & Swingley, D. (2012). At 6–9 months, human infants know the meanings of many common nouns. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(9), 3253-3258.

Fernald, A., Perfors, A., & Marchman, V. A. (2006). Picking up speed in understanding: Speech processing efficiency and vocabulary growth across the 2nd year. Developmental psychology, 42(1), 98.

Bergelson, E., & Aslin, R. N. (2017). Nature and origins of the lexicon in 6-mo-olds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(49), 12916-12921.

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