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Language and thought in children

Professor Jill de Villiers, Smith College, Massachusetts

Date/Time: 12th May 2015

When the child develops language, does language provide new ways of thinking about the world? This controversial issue is the subject of my recent work on the relationship of the child’s language and Theory of Mind.

Prof Jill de Villiers argues that learning the grammar causes fundamental changes in what children can represent about beliefs. But more broadly, does having a faculty of language change us fundamentally in terms of the concepts we can hold? 

Speaker biography

Jill de Villiers has authored and edited three books about language acquisition and numerous chapters and journal articles, most of them on the acquisition of complex syntax in pre-schoolers. She is now studying the impact of language acquisition on cognitive development, particularly on theory of mind. In addition to the development of new diagnostic tests for language assessment, she consults on designing computer software for language intervention.

Jill De Villiers received her BSc in psychology from Reading University in England in 1969 and then a PhD in experimental psychology from Harvard University in 1974, where she worked with Professor Roger Brown on language acquisition. She then taught at Harvard as an assistant professor of psychology from 1974 to 1979.

In 1979 she took a position jointly in the psychology and philosophy departments at Smith College, where she is now the Sophia and Austin Smith Professor.