The PhD positions are part of a new research programme on language development at Utrecht University, the Netherlands: “A sound start: Prosodic development before birth and in the first three years of life”. Children show remarkable knowledge of native prosody (i.e. melody and rhythm in speech) at birth and thrive on it in early language and communication development. This programme investigates how children develop prosodic competence so early. Taking an interdisciplinary and crosslinguistic approach, it aims to discern the role of innate mechanisms, uncover learning mechanisms in the auditory modality underlying development spanning prenatal and after-birth periods, and shed light on the role of visual cues to prosody (i.e. speech-accompanying gestures) in after-birth periods. PhD projects 1 and 2 will be concerned with the first two goals in the learning of prosodic phrasing (i.e. grouping sequences of sounds into meaningful units in speech streams) and prosodic formmeaning mappings (i.e. associating prosodic patterns with communicative functions), PhD project 3 with the third goal in both areas of prosodic development. We are seeking to hire three highly motivated, driven, and talented PhD students to conduct these projects in a period of four years.
In PhD project 1, you will examine the role of innate mechanisms and learning mechanisms underlying development in prosodic phrasing. You will work with preterm and full-term neonates born to German and Dutch-speaking families using EEG. You will also work with Dutch-speaking expecting mothers using a prenatal training paradigm.
In PhD project 2, you will examine the role of innate mechanisms and learning mechanisms underlying development in prosodic form-meaning mappings . You will work with Dutch-exposed newborns using EEG and Dutch-speaking expecting mothers using a prenatal training paradigm. You will also conduct corpus-based research on structured mother-child interactions in Indonesian, Swedish and Dutch and non-structured mother-child interactions in Swedish and Dutch.
In PhD project 3, you will study how availability of visual cues to prosody and visual attention to these cues influence the learning of prosodic phrasing and form-meaning mappings (e.g., prosody-to-focus mapping). You will work with Dutch-learning infants and toddlers using behavioural, eye-tracking and EEG techniques.
In this research programme you will work within an interdisciplinary team, closely collaborating with researchers from linguistics, neuroscience, psycholinguistics, psychology and neonatology. You will receive assistance from student assistants in data collection and/or data processing and have the opportunity to develop your academic teaching skills during your project. The PhD projects are funded by a VICI grant (VI.C. 201.109) from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) to Professor Aoju Chen and will be carried out at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, at Utrecht University, the Netherlands.
Tasks for the PhD candidates:
- completion and defence of an article-based PhD thesis within four years;
- regular presentation of intermediate research results at workshops and conferences;
- publication of at least three peer-reviewed articles in established international journals;
- co-organization of project workshops and conferences;
- participation in training programmes and expert meetings organised for the project group;
- participation in relevant training programmes provided by the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, National Graduate School of Linguistics and other organisations;
- participation in teaching on relevant areas at the BA or MA level in year 3 of the project.
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