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Dr Catherine Laing

Dr Catherine Laing


School of English, Communication and Philosophy

+44 (0)29 2087 0774
3.63, John Percival Building, Colum Drive, Cardiff, CF10 3EU
Media commentator
Available for postgraduate supervision


I am part of the Centre for Language and Communication Research. My research focuses primarily on first language acquisition, specifically phonological acquisition (both perception and production). I am particularly interested in infants’ transition from babble to speech, and how this is shaped by internal and external factors.

Before moving to Cardiff I worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University, North Carolina, based in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. I have also worked at the Universities of York and Huddersfield.


Education and Qualifications

2012 – 2015: PhD Linguistics, University of York, UK

2009 – 2010: MA Linguistics, University of York, UK

2005 – 2009: BA French and German (Language and Linguistics), University of York, UK

Honours and awards

2019. Fellow, Higher Education Academy.

2015. Humanities Research Centre Doctoral Fellowship Award, Language and Linguistic Science. University of York, UK.

2014. Three Minute Thesis competition, 2nd prize: “What does the cow say?” And what can it do for us? University of York, UK.

2014: WRDTC Interdisciplinary Network Funding, PENCIL Project.

2013: ESRC Overseas Institutional Visit, University of Stockholm, Sweden.

2012 - 2015: ESRC WR DTC (3) Scholarship, 2012-2015.

Academic positions

2017 - Present: Lecturer, Cardiff University

2016 – 2017: Postdoctoral Research Associate, Duke University, North Carolina, USA

2015 - 2016: Associate Lecturer, University of York, UK

2016: Visiting Lecturer, Huddersfield University, UK

2013: Visiting Research Fellow, Stockholm University, Sweden

Speaking engagements

October 2020. Laing, C. E. Measuring phonological systematicity in infants’ early words. Paper presented at the Many Paths to Language (MPaL) conference, 23rd October 2020, hosted by the Max Planck Institute (online).

September 2020. Laing, C. E. A phonological network analysis of infants’ early words: perspectives from production. Paper presented at the Language and Cognition Research Seminar, Cardiff University, 15th September 2020.

June 2019. Laing, C. E. “What does the sea lion say?” Onomatopoeia facilitate early infant-caregiver interactions. Poster presented at the International Child Phonology Conference, Montreal, 15th June 2019.

June 2018. Laing, C. E. & Bergelson, E. From babble to words: Infants’ early productions match attended objects. Child Language Symposium, Reading, 25th June 2018.

December 2017. Laing, C. E. Tracing bilingual lexical acquisition via infants’ phonological preferences. BAAL-Routledge Research Development Workshop: Bilingual First Language Acquisition: Current Theories and Methodologies, University of York, 5th December 2017.

November 2017. Laing, C. E. & Bergelson, E. What did you say? Infants’ Early Productions Match Caregiver Input. 42nd Boston University Conference on Child Language Development (BUCLD), Boston University, MA, 5th November 2017

July 2017. Laing, C. E. & Bergelson, E. More siblings means lower input quality in early language development. Paper presented at CogSci 2017, London, UK, 27th July 2017.

July 2017. Laing, C. E. Producibility and accuracy in early acquisition: The case for onomatopoeia. Paper presented at IASCL 2017, Lyon, France, 21st July 2017.

November 2016. Laing, C. E. ‘What does the cow say?’ An analysis of onomatopoeia in early interactions. Paper presented at the 41st Boston University Conference on Child Language Development (BUCLD), Boston University, MA, 5th November 2016.

July 2015. Laing, C. E. Interaction and onomatopoeia in early language development. Paper presented at the Child Language Symposium 2015, University of Warwick, UK, 21st July 2015.

June 2015. Laing, C. E. Is the early acquisition of onomatopoeia internally or externally motivated? Paper presented at the 2nd International Workshop on Infant Language Development (WILD), Stockholm, Sweden, 12th June 2015.

March 2015. Laing, C. E. The iconic mapping of onomatopoeia in early word learning. Paper presented at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft (DGfS) conference, Leipzig, 5th March 2015.









Undergraduate modules:

  • How Language Works 1
  • Children, Language and Communication
  • Experimental Approaches to Psycholinguistics
  • Language and the Mind
  • Language Learning and Teaching

Postgraduate modules:

  • Phonetics and Phonology
  • Research Experience
  • Research Foundations

My research is in the field of infant language acquisition, specifically the phonetics and phonology of early perception and production. I’m interested in infants’ use of babble as a way to ‘rehearse’ and stabilize speech segments, and how infants’ developments in production influence their perception of the surrounding linguistic environment.

I work mainly with home-recorded data of infants interacting with their caregivers, analysing both input and output characteristics. To-date, this has included analyses of:

  • the effect of older siblings on infants’ language development and input
  • object names and input words in relation to on-line consonant production
  • caregivers’ use of prosody
  • infants’ use of extra-linguistic ‘sound effect’ features in early production
  • phonological networks mapping systematicity in early lexical development

I also have experience of using eye-tracking in experimental studies, and have worked with Tobii and EyeLink eye tracking hardware.

I am interested in how babble and first words overlap, and how infants’ earliest words derive from their babbling experience. As well as looking at the individual segments that infants produce, I’m also interested in ‘whole-word’ patterns. This relates to work from my PhD thesis, where I studied infants’ acquisition of onomatopoeic words such as ‘woof woof’ and ‘moo’. Onomatopoeia are a prominent word class in early production, and also happen to match the common phonological structures produced in canonical babble. Research following on from my thesis has considered the extent to which early words reflect the phonological patterns found in the babble phase.

Current projects:

  • More siblings means lower input quality in early language development (in collaboration with Elika Bergelson, see OSF for more info)
  • Size sound symbolism in mothers' speech to their infants (collboration with Tamar Keren-Portnoy, Ghada Khattab and Shayne Sloggett)
  • Phonological networks in early lexical development
  • Pupillometry responses to familiar and novel items (collboration with Tamar Keren-Portnoy, Rory DePaolis, Marilyn Vihman and Shayne Sloggett)

You can find our more about my past and current projects on my GitHub and OSF pages.


I am interested in supervising PhD students in the areas of:

  • Phonological development
  • Input effects and variability
  • Bilingual phonological acquisition
  • Perception-production interface
  • Iconicity in language