Heather Marsden
Senior Lecturer



Heather Marsden works primarily in second language (L2) acquisition, focussing on the L2 acquisition of phenomena at the syntax–semantics interface, with a special interest in the L2 acquisition of Japanese and other East Asian languages.

She obtained her first degree in Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge, and a Diploma in Translation (Japanese to English) from the Chartered Institute of Linguists. She worked as a translator, a language teacher, and a language teaching materials editor, before beginning her academic career in Linguistics with an MA and PhD at the University of Durham.


  • University of Cambridge
    BA Japanese Studies
  • University of Durham
    MA Linguistics
  • University of Durham
    PhD Linguistics (2004)
  • Newcastle University
    ESRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2004 - 2006)
  • University of York
    Lecturer (2007 - 2016)
    Senior Lecturer (2016 - present)

Departmental roles

  • Chair of Graduate School Board



My research investigates multilingual language acquisition from the perspective of generative linguistic theory. I am particularly interested in the second (or non-native) language (L2) acquisition of linguistic structure at the interfaces of syntax with semantics and discourse, and in the role of input in shaping acquisition. I use psycholinguistic methods to investigate questions such as the following:

  1. How does the linguistic structure of a previously acquired language affect acquisition in a subsequent language (whether the previous language is a "native" language or a "second", "third", etc. language)?
  2. How do L2 learners acquire linguistic knowledge for which there is no evidence in the input?
  3. How does the content of grammar instruction affect acquisition of linguistic structure?

I am also interested in research that integrates L2 acquisition theory and language teaching practice, both at the level of collaborative research and at the level of knowledge exchange. I am particularly interested in the L2 acquisition of East Asian languages, and of languages commonly taught at secondary level in the UK (Spanish, German and French).


External activities

Invited talks and conferences

Selected invited talks

2017. Searching for a common language: where do GenSLA research and the language classroom meet? Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (GASLA 14), University of Southampton.

2016. A breath of fresh air: why language teachers and language acquisition researchers should talk to each other. Association for Language Learning, Yorkshire Winter Seminar Series.

2016. Searching for a common language: where do theoretical SLA research and the language classroom meet? Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

2015. Grammar-meaning interactions, and how we can exploit them in the language classroom. Workshop on Language Acquisition and the Second Language Classroom. Language and Speech Laboratory. University of the Basque Country, Spain.

2013. A feature-based approach to Korean, Chinese, and English existential quantifiers in second language acquisition. East Asian Linguistics Seminar, University of Oxford.

2013. How we can learn from acquisition: The acquisition-learning debate revisited. Invited talk at invited workshop on “Applying generative SLA to the language classroom”, at Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (GASLA), University of Florida. (with K.-H. Gil & M. Whong).

2011. Existential quantifiers and polarity in L2 Interlanguage: applying the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis. Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge. (with K.-H. Gil).

2010. A Feature Reassembly approach to L2 knowledge of existential quantifiers. FLARE Center, University of Iowa.

Recent conference papers

2017. When similar L1-L2 morphology hinders L2 acquisition: the case of wh-existentials in Korean. Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition (GASLA 14), University of Southampton. (with K.-H. Gil & S. Kim).

2015. The meaning of negation in classroom instruction. EUROSLA, Aix-en-Provence, France. (with K.-H. Gil & M. Whong).

2014. The acquisition of “anything” by Catalan/Spanish bilingual and Spanish monolingual learners of English. Workshop on Multilingual Language Acquisition, Processing and Use, Tromso, Norway. (with E. Puig-Mayenco)


Contact details

Heather Marsden
Senior Lecturer
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
Vanbrugh College C Block
Room : V/C/217

Tel: (0)1904 323610