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Laurier professor wins Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award
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Laurier psychology professor, Dr. Joanne Lee, has been awarded the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award
worth $7,500 to study language development at the initial stage of word
learning, before children even start to produce intelligible speech.
Her project – “Early word learning: Cognitive or linguistic bias?” – will compare early word acquisition in English and Mandarin Chinese, especially the difference in early learning of nouns versus verbs.
The core of Lee’s project is determining whether children in different language communities – Mandarin Chinese and English – learn nouns first or if Chinese children learn verbs first, having been exposed to hearing the structure of their native language. Chinese language centres on verbs to the same degree that English focuses on nouns.
Part of the excitement of the project is that it targets language learning at the very earliest stages. Lee’s Laurier Child Language and Math Laboratory will be the first language and math research lab in an Ontario university equipped with a specialized system, used in only three other Canadian universities, which assesses language comprehension in children who are not yet able to produce speech.
“Because Canada is becoming more diverse, both culturally and linguistically, this work can provide a platform for studying bilingual and second language acquisition,” says Lee. “Knowing when children learn different types of words, as well as how and why, would give us a better grasp of the fundamental building blocks of language learning.”
Lee joined Laurier’s Department of Psychology in July 2006 as a developmental psychologist, specializing in language and cognition. Her current research has focused on language learning using cross-linguistic studies, the impact of early word acquisition on reading and mathematical development, and the role of language in math development.
“Dr. Lee's research into how we learn language is a very exciting area with applications to many fields,” says Deborah MacLatchy, Laurier’s dean of science. “We are very pleased in the Faculty of Science that her work has been recognized by Laurier's Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award."
The Petro-Canada Young Innovator Awards recognize the work of outstanding young faculty researchers at Canadian universities, colleges and major research institutes. Since its inception in 1995, nearly $5 million has been endowed at universities across the country. To date, there have been 135 recipients from 23 institutions.