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Dr. Janet Werker

Co-Director, Language Sciences Initiative / Professor

Psychology

Faculty of Arts

Research Themes: 

The Communicating Mind and Body

Canada Research Chair
University Killam Professor
Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

Janet Werker’s work on language sciences-related areas at UBC goes back to her days in graduate school. She is currently Director of the Infant Studies Centre in the Psychology department, where she describes her research this way:

“We investigate the multitude of factors – perceptual, conceptual, and cultural – that contribute to monolingual and bilingual language acquisition. In our work on perceptual foundations, we seek to characterize the biases infants have from birth for processing language, and when and how initial sensitivities are changed as a function of experience with different languages. We study not only how infants perceive the sounds of speech, but also how they use and integrate the information they see in talking faces and the feedback they get from their own oral-motor movements. Current studies also examine how these changing sensitivities facilitate acquisition of the grammar of the native language and direct the segmentation and learning of words. In our work on conceptual underpinnings, we examine the expectations infants have about the potential meaning of words, how words are represented in the early lexicon, and how bilingual vs. monolingual acquisition might impact these conceptual biases. To study the role of culture, we examine how language is used in different cultural contexts, and explore whether infants growing up bilingual use expressions of culture beyond language to help keep their two languages distinct. Because we want to understand all of these interacting processes at many levels of analysis, we use both behavioural and neuroimaging techniques.”

Janet’s awards and honours are numerous, including receiving the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada’s 2015 Gold Medal Impact Award.

Research Interests

Characterizing the biases infants have from birth for processing language, and when and how initial sensitivities are changed as a function of experience with different languages.

How infants perceive the sounds of speech, and how they use and integrate the information they see in talking faces and the feedback they get from their own oral-motor movements.

How infants’ changing sensitivities facilitate acquisition of the grammar of the native language and direct the segmentation and learning of words.

The expectations infants have about the potential meaning of words, how words are represented in the early lexicon, and how bilingual vs. monolingual acquisition might impact these conceptual biases.