Dr Danielle Matthews
Reader in Cognitive Development
The University of Sheffield
Sheffield S1 2TN , UK
Tel: (+44) 0114 22 26548
New Video for Parents: How do Babies Learn to Communicate?
Babies communicate long before they say their first words. This video highlights some of the major steps on the path to language.
National Deaf Children's Society video series: Supporting communicative development for babies with any level of hearing loss
With the help of a large group of families, we made these videos to help parents to support communicative development from birth to two years. Find out more on the NDCS website.
If you would like to take part in studies with your child, please see the Sheffield Cognitive Development Research Group page and volunteer.
Edited Volume on Pragmatic Development
Matthews, D. E. (Ed.). (2014). Pragmatic Development in First Language Acquisition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Pragmatic development is increasingly seen as the foundation stone of language acquisition more generally. From very early on, children demonstrate a strong desire to understand and be understood that motivates the acquisition of lexicon and grammar and enables ever more effective communication. In the 35 years since the first edited volume on the topic, a flourishing literature has reported on the broad set of skills that can be called pragmatic. This volume aims to bring that literature together in a digestible format. It provides a series of succinct review chapters on 19 key topics ranging from preverbal skills right up to irony and argumentative discourse. Each chapter equips the reader with an overview of current theories, key empirical findings and questions for new research. This valuable resource will be of interest to scholars of psychology, linguistics, speech therapy, and cognitive science.
I research how children learn to talk, in particular how infants and young children learn to use words and grammar to communicative effect.
Examples of pragmatic abilities that I have been interested in include children’s ability to:
- point and vocalise to direct another person’s attention
- repair failed communicative exchanges
- adapt referring expressions to their interlocutor’s perceptual state and the prior discourse
- produce speech that adheres to Greenfield’s Principle of Informativity
- manage given and new information in conversation
- produce narratives (talk about events removed in space and time)
- form referential pacts
- resolve anaphoric pronouns
- learn the function of plurifunctional words like ´the´ and `a´ (that are so hard for non native speakers of English to master)
- seek out contextual information to explain a speaker’s unexpected use of a given expression
- make global and local inferences when understanding a story book
- hold a conversation (work with Kirsten Abbot-Smith)
My current research is concerned with the learning mechanisms that allow the development of a broad set of pragmatic abilities. We are interested in how conversational experience (that can differ as a function of, e.g., deafness) explains pragmatic development, and what the consequences are for later outcomes and social wellbeing.
Language Development and Deafness
The development of communication and language is at risk for most deaf babies and young children. We have been investigating how early interaction can support development. See our videos series above!
Socio-Economic Status and Language Development
Upon moving to Sheffield, I became interested in the relation between SES and Language Development. Although there are well established correlations between SES and, for example, vocabulary size, the basis for this association is not well understood and there is relatively little evidence about what practical steps could be taken to promote preschool language development. I'm interested in using properly controlled intervention studies to test causal hypotheses. We are currently working to answer questions such as:
How is SES measured? How do different indices correlate with measures of language learning?
Does contingent talk vary as a function of SES and does it causally affect language development?
Do early interventions work and are they a good idea?
How does book reading promote early language development and narrative understanding?
How do SES differences in different cultures around the world compare?
With former PhD students Ed Donnellan and Michelle McGillion, I have investigated how communicative skills in early infancy, namely gaze-coordinated vocalisations and gestures, combine with measures of the language learning environment to predict individual differences in word learning.
The Learnability of Grammar
Part of my PhD and later work with Colin Bannard was designed to contribute to the learnability debate in grammatical development. The aim here is to explain how the cognitive biases children bring to language acquisition interact with properties of the ambient language(s) to shape development.
Current PhD Students
Gemma Stephens - Pragmatic development in infancy/preschool and SES
Emma Thornton - The association between early vocabulary and later life outcomes in large cohort studies
Ciara Kelly - Postdoctoral Researcher - Supporting deaf infants' and toddlers' communicative development
Ellen Crawford - Research Assistant - Supporting deaf infants' and toddlers' communicative development
Teaching and Admin
Teaching: Undergraduate: Developmental Psychology; Research Methods; Extended Essay; Research Project.
Postgraduate: Current Issues in Psychological Research ; Systematic Literature Reviewing; MSc Research Project.
Admin: Director of the MSc in Psychological Research (with Advanced Statistics; with Data Science)
British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, D. Matthews, (2018-19) Pragmatic Development: How children learn to use language in social interaction.
University of Sheffield Legacy, D. Matthews (2018-19) Supporting communicative development in deaf babies with any level of hearing loss.
ESRC, Large Grant to C. Rowland (PI) D. Matthews, J. Billington, R. Levy, T Cameron-Faulkner, A. Hesketh, C. Davies (co-PIs), (2015-2018) How to promote children's language development using family-based shared book reading.
British Academy, Small Research Grant to D. Matthews & C. Bannard (co-PIs), (2014-2016) What role does statistical learning play in children’s pragmatic development?
Nuffield Foundation Foundations for Learning Grant to D. Matthews (PI), J. Herbert & J. Pine (2011-2012) Does promoting parents’ contingent talk with their infants benefit language development?
British Academy, Small Research Grant: to D. Matthews (PI), J. Herbert & J. Pine (2011-2012) Does promoting parents’ engagement with their infants benefit language development?
British Academy UK-Latin America and the Caribbean Link Scheme to D. Matthews (PI) & A. Carmiol (2010-2012) Communicative Development: A cross-linguistic, cross-cultural comparison.
A list of key publications can be found below. For a full list of publications please click here
- Donnellan E, Bannard C, McGillion M, Slocombe K & Matthews D (2019) Infants’ intentionally communicative vocalisations elicit responses from caregivers and are the best predictors of the transition to language: a longitudinal investigation of infants’ vocalisations, gestures, and word production.. Developmental Science. View this article in WRRO
- Kelly C, Morgan G, Freeth M, Siegal M & Matthews D (2019) The Understanding of Communicative Intentions in Children with Severe-to-Profound Hearing Loss. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education. View this article in WRRO
- Matthews D, Biney H & Abbot-Smith K (2018) Individual differences in children’s pragmatic ability: A review of associations with formal language, social cognition, and executive functions. Language Learning and Development. View this article in WRRO
- McGillion M, Pine J, Herbert J & Matthews D (2017) A randomised controlled trial to test the effect of promoting caregiver contingent talk on language development in infants from diverse socioeconomic status backgrounds. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 58(10), 1122-1131. View this article in WRRO
- Bannard C, Rosner M & Matthews D (2017) What’s Worth Talking About? Information Theory Reveals How Children Balance Informativeness and Ease of Production. Psychological Science, 28(7), 954-966. View this article in WRRO
- McGillion M, Herbert JS, Pine J, Vihman M, dePaolis R, Keren-Portnoy T & Matthews D (2017) What Paves the Way to Conventional Language? The Predictive Value of Babble, Pointing, and Socioeconomic Status. Child Development, 88(1), 156-166. View this article in WRRO
- McGillion ML, Herbert JS, Pine JM, Keren-Portnoy T, Vihman MM & Matthews DE (2013) Supporting Early Vocabulary Development: What Sort of Responsiveness Matters?. IEEE Transactions on Autonomous Mental Development, 5(3), 240-248.
- Morisseau T, Davies C & Matthews D (2013) How do 3- and 5-year-olds respond to under- and over-informative utterances?. Journal of Pragmatics, 59, 26-39.
- Matthews D, Behne T, Lieven E & Tomasello M (2012) Origins of the human pointing gesture: A training study. Developmental Science, 15(6), 817-829.
- Matthews D, Lieven E & Tomasello M (2010) What's in a manner of speaking? Children's sensitivity to partner-specific referential precedents.. Developmental Psychology, 46(4), 749-760.
- Matthews D & Bannard C (2010) Children's Production of Unfamiliar Word Sequences Is Predicted by Positional Variability and Latent Classes in a Large Sample of Child-Directed Speech. Cognitive Science, 34(3), 465-488.
- Bannard C & Matthews D (2008) Stored word sequences in language learning - The effect of familiarity on children's repetition of four-word combinations. Psychological Science, 19(3), 241-248.
- Matthews D, Lieven E & Tomasello M (2007) How toddlers and preschoolers learn to uniquely identify referents for others: a training study.. Child Development, 78(6), 1744-1759.