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Department of Computer Science

Computational Modelling of Child Language Learning

Primary supervisor

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Other projects with the same supervisor


  • Competition Funded Project (Students Worldwide)

This research project is one of a number of projects at this institution. It is in competition for funding with one or more of these projects. Usually the project which receives the best applicant will be awarded the funding. Applications for this project are welcome from suitably qualified candidates worldwide. Funding may only be available to a limited set of nationalities and you should read the full department and project details for further information.

Project description

The aim of this PhD project is to use cutting-edge modelling techniques to simulate children???s learning of English as a native language. Although computational modelling of language has recently made significant advances e.g., ChatGPT), such models do not simulate children???s language learning because (a) they are not linked to the "real-world" (grounding), (b) they receive at least 10 times more language input than children, and (c) they do not simulate children???s errors (e.g., saying "Want cookie" instead of "I want a cookie" or "He go over there" instead of "He???s going over there"). The aim of this project is to build a model that maps from real-world meanings and goals (e.g., [GET] [COOKIE]) to childlike utterances (e.g., "Want cookie"), and so simulates language in a 2-3 year-old child. The model will be trained using corpora of parent-child speech (e.g., with utterances (e.g., "Do you want a cookie?") mapped to communicative function (e.g., QUESTION) and meaning (e.g., [LISTENER] [WANT] [COOKIE]). The result will be a model that not only simulates some of the major phenomena in child language acquisition research, but that also takes steps to address the grounding problem faced by current large language models.
This interdisciplinary project will be co-supervised by Prof Ben Ambridge (from Psychology) and Dr Colin Bannard (from Linguistics) for their expertise on child language acquisition.
The project is suitable for a student with BSc/Master in Computer science / AI or a student with a BA/MSc in Psychology / Linguistics / Cognitive Science and good programming skills.

Person specification

For information


Applicants will be required to evidence the following skills and qualifications.

  • You must be capable of performing at a very high level.
  • You must have a self-driven interest in uncovering and solving unknown problems and be able to work hard and creatively without constant supervision.


Applicants will be required to evidence the following skills and qualifications.

  • You will have good time management.
  • You will possess determination (which is often more important than qualifications) although you'll need a good amount of both.


Applicants will be required to address the following.

  • Comment on your transcript/predicted degree marks, outlining both strong and weak points.
  • Discuss your final year Undergraduate project work - and if appropriate your MSc project work.
  • How well does your previous study prepare you for undertaking Postgraduate Research?
  • Why do you believe you are suitable for doing Postgraduate Research?