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Program & book of abstracts




ViLA 5 is honored to announce the following five keynote lectures that together illustrate the interdisciplinary focus of research on variation in language acquisition:


Queen Mary, University of London

A real time study of the emergence of gendered speech production across the early lifespan

Research has shown that children are exposed to socially meaningful linguistic variation the moment they encounter language (Foulkes, 2010). Patterns in Child Directed Speech (CDS) suggest that caregivers use their input to prime their children to linguistically relevant social categories. Gender appears to be chief among these categories where parents modify “…their phonological performance in line with their child’s developing gender identity” (Foulkes, Docherty, & Watt 2005). At the same time, research has long demonstrated the sociolinguistic dexterity of adolescents who make innovative use of linguistic variation as signifiers of their evolving identities. These studies frequently underscore the primary nature of gender which often serves as the overarching indexical frame (e.g. Eckert 1989, 2011; Bucholtz, 1999), as well as constraining discourse level norms of interaction (Cheshire 2000).

 So while there is a growing understanding of the very earliest stages of the development of gendered speech, and a relatively detailed picture of its use by teenagers, less is known about when and how young speakers become adept users of gendered linguistic variation. In order to investigate how such behaviours develop across the early lifespan, this paper contributes to our understanding of the intervening years through examining the emergence of gendered speech variation in real time. The research targets a key phase in development – childhood to adolescence. The speakers were initially interviewed aged 9-11, and then again 4 years later, aged 13-15. A further corpus in the form of an age stratified adult corpus of speech from the same community forms a baseline for comparison. Two different variables which offer more and less overt norms are presented in order to afford a range of perspectives:

  1. Sociophonetic: /s/ variation When men and women are compared, differences in /s/ production most frequently require a sociophonetic explanation where speakers are described as amplifying “naturally” occurring sex-based differences for socioindexical, gendered ends (Flipsen et al. 1999; Munson 2007; Fuchs & Toda, 2010).

  2. Discourse pragmatic: overlaps and interruptions This form offers a more conscious perspective on the ways that gendered talk is constructed and negotiated. Traditionally, men are reported as interrupting more than women (Zimmerman & West, 1975) and parents are more likely to interrupt their daughters than their sons (Berko-Gleason, 1987).

The examination of the emergence of gendered speech enables an insight into the ways young speakers modify their productions as they attune and negotiate their own gendered identities in line with patterns among their peer group and those norms evident in the broader community.


Sophie Holmes-Elliott is an Assistant Professor of Sociolinguistics at Queen Mary University of London. She is a quantitative variationist and her research focusses on the role that children play in language change. Her work combines real and apparent time approaches in order to track the developmental shifts made by young speakers within the context of ongoing community trends. Sophie's work also investigates the relationship between language and gender. Her most recent work combines these two aspects through a real time investigation of the emergence of gendered patterns of speech between childhood and adolescence.


Sophie Holmes-Elliott
Irmtraud Kaiser


University of Salzburg, Austria

A holistic view on children’s acquisition of sociolinguistic competence: perception, production and metalinguistic awareness

After language acquisition research had long neglected sociolinguistic variation, new approaches were needed to do justice to the complexity of language acquisition and socialization as well as to the variable sociolinguistic realities in which children grow up to become competent members of their speech community. During the past few years, research mixing “a social approach to cognition and a cognitive approach to the social“ (De Vogelaer, Chevrot, Katerbow & Nardy 2017: 23) has come up with exciting new findings. We have learned more about children’s perception of variation, the emergence of varietal repertoires and about children’s acquisition of language attitudes in various sociolinguistic settings, as documented e.g. by the volumes emerging from ViLA 1, edited by De Vogelaer & Katerbow (2017) and from ViLA 2, edited by Ghimenton, Nardy & Chevrot (2021).

In this talk, I will present findings on children’s acquisition of various dimensions of sociolinguistic competence in the Austrian-Bavarian ‘dialect-standard continuum’. Exploring hitherto uncharted territory, we gathered data from children between the ages of 3 and 10 years on the discrimination of dialect and standard speech, on children’s use of language varieties in different communicative situations and on their attitudinal preferences. Moreover, we asked children to comment on their concepts of and experiences with the language varieties of ‘Hochdeutsch’ (Standard German) and ‘dialect’. The findings confirm and complement our knowledge on these aspects of sociolinguistic competence. On top of that, having data on different dimensions of sociolinguistic competence from the same sociolinguistic setting ‒ and in part even from the same children ‒ enables us to hypothesize on the links between implicit and explicit and between linguistic and metalinguistic sociolinguistic knowledge, and on the developmental trajectory of sociolinguistic competence as a whole. I will thus attempt to offer a more holistic, integrative perspective on the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence in children.


Irmtraud Kaiser is Assistant Professor at the Department of German Language and Literatures at the University of Salzburg. She studied German and English philology at the University of Salzburg and worked as a high-school teacher for a year before going to Switzerland for a doctoral position. In 2009, she was awarded a PhD in Multilingualism Research from the University of Fribourg/Freiburg, Switzerland, for her dissertation thesis on reading in German as a foreign language. Following research positions in Mannheim, Germany, and Fribourg/Freiburg, Switzerland, she came back to Salzburg. Irmtraud’s research focuses on the variation, acquisition and didactics of German, on reading comprehension and language attitudes. She was awarded the Hugo-Moser-Prize for German linguistics for her current research project on the acquisition of sociolinguistic competence by Austrian children.


University of Chicago, US

The Development of Language as a Social Category

Beyond the literal content it provides, language conveys social meaning. In this talk I provide evidence that the tendency to see language as uniting, dividing, and marking human social groups begins remarkably early in life. Children’s attention to a speaker’s language and accent influences their social preferences, essentialist reasoning, and learning from others.  In several cases, children’s attention to language trumps attention to race. Yet, while linguistic diversity may cause social divisions, it can also facilitate social understanding: children exposed to diverse linguistic environments exhibit effective social communication skills in understanding the perspective of others.

Katherine D. Kinzler is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on the origins of prejudice and ingroup/outgroup thinking, with an emphasis on understanding how language and accent mark social groups. She completed her Ph.D. at Harvard in Psychology and her B.A. at Yale in Cognitive Science. Her work has appeared regularly in The New York Times and other outlets, and she was named a “Young Scientist” by the World Economic Forum.  Her book How You Say It exposes linguistic prejudice.


Katherine Kinzler
Storms & Verheyen


Individual differences in object naming: semantic variation over age, generation, and language

KU Leuven, Belgium
Erasmus University Rotterdam, NL

In this talk, we will review several studies that have shown differences in the extension of semantic categories that are referred to with the same name/word. In these studies, pictures of household objects, commonly named as ‘bottles’, ‘jars’, ‘plates’, ‘cups’ etc., were presented to participants who were asked to name the objects. Participants were children aged 5 to 14 and adults, Dutch and French speaking, monolinguals and (fluent) bilinguals, and their parents. The results show considerable variability in object naming in all samples. The developmental study demonstrated that children show both over- and underextension, but that they gradually learn to attach the correct weight to relevant features in order to name as adults do. Futhermore, we show that naming in bilinguals deviates systematically from naming in monolinguals and that children are influenced by their parents’ naming patterns.

Gert Storms is full professor in the psychology of language at the University of Leuven. His research focuses on psychosemantics, and more specifically on categorization, concept representation, and semantic networks derived from large scale word associations. He has also published on psychological scaling techniques. Recently, he developed an interest in (breaches of) research integrity.

Steven Verheyen is assistant professor in the psychology of language at Erasmus University Rotterdam. His research focusses on individual differences in language use, categorization, and concept representation, and he is involved in several projects that aim to disseminate responsible research practices among students. Since the start of the pandemic, he has been investigating ways to combat misinformation.


McMatin & Van Coillie


A is for bee? Language variation, children's literature and translation

KU Leuven, Belgium

Translated children’s literature provides fertile ground for examining language and diversity, broadly defined. Surveying three decades of scholarship at the intersection of translation studies and children’s literature studies, this talk addresses diversity in translated children’s literature from four distinct but interconnected perspectives: (1) diversity of modes, (2) diversity of readers, (3) diversity of cultures, and (4) diversity of source and target languages. These four perspectives correspond with four defining characteristics of translated children’s literature: the multimodal interplay between image and text that must be renegotiated when a children’s book is translated for a new audience; the asymmetric relationship between the adult and child reader; the linguistic, ideological and commercial preoccupations surrounding how and whether to render ‘strange’ culture-specific elements from source to target; and, finally, the overwhelming dominance of English as the source language of most translated children’s books, a situation that limits diversity in many language areas. While our analytical perspective is primarily informed by descriptive translation studies and children’s literature studies, we make a concerted effort to engage with current discourses on variation in language acquisition and developmental sociolinguistics more generally.

Jack McMartin is assistant professor of translation and intercultural transfer at KU Leuven, in Belgium. His work investigates the production and reception of Dutch literature in translation, focusing on the people, institutions, and spaces that shape the global book market. Jack is director of the Centre for Translation Studies (CETRA) at KU Leuven. With Jan Van Coillie, he is co-editor of Children’s Literature in Translation: Texts and Contexts (Leuven University Press, 2020), winner of the IRSCL Edited Book Award 2021.


Jan Van Coillie is emeritus professor affiliated with the Faculty of Arts, KU Leuven, Belgium, where he taught applied linguistics and children’s literature (in translation). From 1999 to 2006 he was acting chairman of the Belgian National Centre for Children’s Literature. He has published widely on children’s literature in translation, children’s poetry, fairy tales, and children’s literature generally. He is also active as a critic, author and anthologist. With Jack McMartin, he is co-editor of Children’s Literature in Translation: Text and Contexts (Leuven University Press, 2020), winner of the IRSCL Edited Book Award 2021.


Conference dinner


The VilA5 conference dinner is scheduled on Thursday 1 June 2023

The dinner will be held in an informal setting, in the form of a sharing menu at Café De Markten, located in the very heart of Brussels. The conference dinner is a separate cost to the main conference. If you plan to attend, please include this option when you register.

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