Language Development

Our developmental work mainly focuses on early language learning by examining perceptual-conceptual underpinnings of relational language (verbs-prepositions), how children express relational words in both speech-gesture, and what factors influence learning these words. Below are the main lines of our research in this area:

Nonlinguistic event processing for learning language: Is there a link from event processing to learning relational terms in languages? We argue that infants universally notice a common set of foundational components in events – dividing the world in language ready ways. As children learn how to express event components in their native language, they highlight certain components over others and metaphorically trade spaces; moving from being ‘language generalists’ to ‘language-specific interpreters’ of events. Using preferential-looking and habituation paradigms, my colleagues and I presented evidence that infants perceive and conceptualize the event components found across the world’s languages (such as path-manner and figure-ground. Before language learning, infants are language generalists who are sensitive to various conceptual distinctions across languages. Language then plays a role in highlighting aspects of events lexicalized in children’s native tongue and children then view the world – when they need to speak – through the lens of their language. Currently, we expand our research to Turkish-learning children and examine the link from event processing to language learning in a longitudinal study funded by TÜBİTAK (The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey: http://www.tubitak.gov.tr/).

Causal understanding and causal language: 
Are there any cases in which language might be necessary for constructing event concepts? Causal events are an informative area for research. Even though children have the necessary conceptual underpinnings to describe causal events, it is not until age 4 that they reliably use causal verbs to describe causal relations. In fact, one of our key findings is that prior to using causal language effectively, 4- and 5-year-olds rely on gestures to supplement their language skills. In my recent work, I move from these simple causal scenes and work in the area of force dynamics that necessitates representing complex scenes that integrate various causal forces like helping, stopping, and preventing. We showed that preschoolers represented the forces in causal events only incompletely. They were good at judging the direction and endpoint of the ball in one-force Cause trials. However, only 5-year-old children integrated two forces. We argue that learning causal verbs could mediate children’s formation of force dynamic categories. In our ongoing work, we examine the representation of force dynamics in detail by studying how children talk about these events and whether children learning two languages perceive and talk about these events in different ways.  Part of this work is funded by Science Academy of Turkey (http://bilimakademisi.org/) and we collaborate with Dr. Nate George from Pennsylvania State University (http://weisslab.weebly.com/people.html)

Second Language Learning: In a recently funded European Commission research project named L2TOR (pronounced ‘el tutor’), we aim to design a child-friendly tutor robot that can be used to support teaching preschool children a second language (L2).  In this project, we will teach English as L2 to Dutch, German and Turkish, and teaching Dutch and German as L2 to immigrant children speaking Turkish as a native language. This project is conducted in a consortium Consortium: Plymouth University, Koç University, Utrecht University, Tilburg University, Bielefeld University, Alderaban Robotics & QBMT (http://www.l2tor.eu/). At Koç, we conduct the studies with Prof. Dr. Aylin Küntay and her Language and Communication Lab (http://dililetisimlab.ku.edu.tr/index.php?lang=en

Development of aesthetics: In this new exciting line of research, I aim to investigate the early development of aesthetics judgments with particular emphasis on art. The development of visual art preferences is an understudied area in aesthetics research. Yet, it is necessary to understand how our aesthetic appreciation emerges and what factors influence this process during development. A good framework to study early art appreciation with infants and young children requires an examination of the interactions among different components of aesthetic experience (sensation, knowledge, and emotion). This line of research can help identify general perceptual primitives in visual art preferences and how they diverge across development and culture. In addition to these we examine art judgments and art preferences in a cross-cultural study using both implicit (eye-tracking method) and explicit measures (preferences). This work is done in collaboration with Prof. Anjan Chatterjee from University of Pennsylvania (http://ccn.upenn.edu/chatterjee/) and Asst. Prof. Alex Kranjec from Duquesne University (https://sites.google.com/site/alexanderkranjec/).