Our research vision is to answer one of the most burning questions in cognitive science: how do children learn language and what are the underlying mechanisms and structural features that enable them to do so?Language makes us human but humanity comes in many facets and so does language. There are thousands of languages spoken today and hundred of thousands of languages that have been spoken in human history. Languages develop and change with a dynamics that is unique among communication systems in the species of our planet. Only we humans are able to construct ever new symbols and combine them in unlimited ways. But not enough, each and every one of the human languages comes with unique and widely differing demands on what needs to be learned — from different sound inventories and conjugation classes to different syntactic constructions and patterns in the lexicon — and each is embedded in substantially varying cultural and social settings. This requires an extreme flexibility in cognitive abilities such as pattern detection, abstraction and generalisation.
We systematically explore whether there are some structural patterns that are similar across languages and what exactly these very general and flexible mechanisms are that make this extremely diverse learning challenge feasible.