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The acquisition of morphology in children: understanding the factors involved in children’s comprehension and production of correct inflections

Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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Prof E Lieven , Prof A Theakston Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only
Manchester United Kingdom Other Other Other Other Statistics

About the Project

Morphology is the study of the prefixes or endings that change the meanings of words (called inflections). In English, -s, codes number (girl-girlS); -ed codes past tense (eg. climb-climbED ); -s also codes who is doing the action (e.g. I climb-He climbS);, un- reverses the meaning of some verbs (e.g. do-UNdo). Although English is very restricted in the amount of inflection compared to many other languages, children still make errors, both of omission (leaving off the correct ending) and of overgeneralisation (using an incorrect ending e.g. I runs fast, I’m going to undie you).

To date, a number of theoretical models have been put forward to explain children’s early difficulties (e.g. processing/memory difficulties, input frequency effects, meaning), with each receiving varying empirical support.

This PhD will build on previous work to further our understanding of the factors involved in children’s comprehension and production of correct inflections. Depending on the students’ expertise it could involve studying children speaking English, another language or bilinguals. The impact of morphological development on literacy is an important topic and one aspect of the project might involve testing for the relationship between accurate comprehension and production of morphology and reading and writing skills. Methods may include naturalistic corpus work, experimental behavioural studies, eye tracking and EEG.

Successful applicants will join the thriving Manchester child study centre and be affiliated to the LuCiD Centre ( enabling them to benefit from tailored seminars, training, and networking with the wider research community. Training in a range of research techniques is available including corpus data and analysis, experimental design, behavioural measures, eye tracking and EEG, and computational modelling. Statistical analysis involves the use of SPSS as well as multilevel modelling in R.

Depending on the particular techniques required, further co-supervisors may be involved to provide appropriate support. In addition to the project-specific training/techniques, students are expected to get involved in lab activities such as reading groups and statistics workshops, and contribute to the many public engagement and outreach activities undertaken by the child study centre (training provided as needed). Further subject-specific and transferable skills training is provided by the LuCiD Centre and by the Manchester Doctoral Academy ( ).

A 1st class or high 2;1 undergraduate degree or equivalent in Psychology, Linguistics, or a related discipline is essential. A Masters in Psychology, Linguistics or related disciplines is an advantage. Applicants who are considering completing MRes prior to starting a PhD are also welcome. Some knowledge of a language other than English could also be an advantage.

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. On the online application form select PhD Psychology

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).
Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester, and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website View Website


Ambridge, B., Kidd, E., Rowland, C. & Theakston, A. (2015). The ubiquity of frequency effects in first language, Journal of Child Language, 42(2), 239-273. doi: 10.1017/S030500091400049X

Theakston, A. & Lieven, E. (2017) Multiunit sequences in first language acquisition In: Topics in Cognitive Science
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