The science of learning language

Monday 9 July 2012, 1:06PM
By Victoria University


Ever wondered how people learn languages? Professor Nick Ellis, a world-leading linguist, will explore how humans have developed this fundamental skill at a free public lecture at Victoria University this Thursday.

Professor Ellis, Victoria University’s 2012 Ian Gordon Fellow, will give a lecture entitled 'humans make language, and language makes us human'. His lecture will explore how language has evolved to be learnable.

As Professor Ellis explains: "It is remarkable that just about every child learns a language by simply being immersed in a speech community. Each of us as language learners has had different experiences, and yet somehow we have broadly the same language system."

His research has involved the analysis of different bodies of text, each containing millions of words. This has identified certain patterns, and these patterns, Professor Ellis argues, underpin how we learn language.

Born and educated in the UK, Professor Ellis is best known for his influential research and publications in the field of second language acquisition. He is a leading figure in language acquisition research, with over 150 published journal articles and chapters to his name, and has played a leading role in establishing second language acquisition as a cognitive science.

Professor Ellis is based at the University of Michigan where he is Professor of Psychology, Research Scientist in the English Language Institute, Professor of Linguistics and an associated academic staff member at the Centre for the Study of Complex Systems.

"It is fantastic to have such an influential thinker here in Wellington," says Dr John Macalister, Head of Victoria’s School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies. “He has changed the way we think about learning languages. His contribution to the field has been invaluable.”

Professor Ellis's visit to New Zealand has been made possible by the Ian Gordon Fellowship. Established in 2003 with a generous endowment to the Victoria University Foundation by Emeritus Professor Ian Gordon, the Fellowship supports the study of English language in the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies.

The Ian Gordon Fellow Lecture is a free public lecture which takes place:
• Thursday 12 July, 6-7pm
• Venue: Victoria University, Maclaurin Lecture Theatre 102, Maclaurin Building, Gate 6, Kelburn Parade, Wellington.