Elissa L. Newport

Elissa Newport

Contact Information

  • Brain & Cognitive Sciences
  • University of Rochester
  • Rochester, NY 14627-0268

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Research Overview

My primary research interest is in the acquisition of language, and in the relationship between language acquisition and language structure.

One line of research focuses on the language acquisition process, investigating how learners go from linguistic input to knowledge of the grammar of a language. Part of this research examines the input children receive for learning English, and analyzes the extent to which this input is capable of supporting the rules children form. Another part of this research examines unusual children around the world acquiring creole languages, where input is extremely reduced or inconsistent, but where the children seem to acquire complex rules nonetheless. This research includes studies of the emergence of young sign languages in Nicaragua, Japan, Israel, and the U.S.

In recent work we have begun to study both normal acquisition and creolization using miniature languages presented to learners in the lab, where we can control both the input and the structure of the language, to see how the learning process (which we have called "statistical learning") actually works. Understanding this learning process involves identifying the particular computations learners make in analyzing the language, and also understanding the constraints and biases in these computational processes which may give rise to phenomena like creolization.

A second line of research concerns maturational effects on language learning, comparing children to adults as first and second language learners, and asking why children, who are more limited in most cognitive domains, perform better than adults in language acquisition. These studies involve the acquisition of signed and spoken languages at varying ages.

We are also conducting studies of human learners acquiring musical and other nonlinguistic patterns, and of nonhuman primates attempting to learn the same materials, to see where sequential learning, and the constraints on such learning, differ across species and domains.

Finally, a long-term interest concerns understanding why languages universally display certain types of structures, and considers whether constraints on pattern learning in children may provide part of the basis for universal regularities in languages of the world.

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Selected Publications

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Research Collaborators

  • Richard N. Aslin, Professor, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Daphne Bavelier, Associate Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Robert A. Jacobs, Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Ernest J. Nordeen, Professor, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Kathy W. Nordeen, Professor, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester
  • Ted Supalla, Associate Professor, Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, University of Rochester

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Research Support

For the past 30 years my work has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. I have also previously been funded by the National Science Foundation, the McDonnell Foundation, and the Packard Foundation.

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Current Students

Graduate Students

Postdoctoral Fellows

  • Patty Reeder

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