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Marilyn Vihman



Marilyn Vihman’s primary interest is in phonological development. She took up a Chair in Language and Linguistics at York in 2007. She received her BA in Russian (Bryn Mawr College) and her PhD in Linguistics (University of California, Berkeley). Marilyn directed the Child Phonology Project at Stanford University from 1980-1989. She later taught in Speech Science and Communication Disorders in Louisiana before coming to the UK, where she was Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Wales, Bangor from 1996 to 2006.

In 1996 Marilyn published Phonological Development: The origins of language in the child, which provided surveys of research on both infant speech perception and early vocal and phonological development. After completing the book she carried out several studies funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, involving observational recordings of children learning British English and Welsh, acoustic analyses of English, Finnish, French, Japanese and Welsh babbling and early words, and experimental infant studies using both the perceptual Head Turn paradigm and Event Related Potentials. Her current research is primarily centred on the formation and later fading of phonological templates in the first years of life, with a cross-linguistic emphasis.

Marilyn is also known for her work on bilingual language development, based largely on observations and recordings of her own two children, who were raised using Estonian as the home language while attending schools in Northern California. She also conducted studies of children acquiring English and Welsh simultaneously in North Wales.

A thoroughly revised edition of the 1996 book appeared in 2014. This 2nd edition, which is restricted to the first two years of life, includes chapters on infant development (an overview of advances in social and cognitive as well as perceptual and vocal capacities), perception of rhythm, segmentation and distributional learning, word-form learning studies using a range of different experimental methods and bilingual perception and production.


2007 - Professor of Linguistics University of York
1996 - 2006 Professor of Developmental Psychology University of Wales, Bangor
1993 - 1995 Associate Professor, Special Education Southeastern Louisiana University
1980 - 1989 Director, Child Phonology Program Stanford University
1971 PhD in Linguistics University of California, Berkeley
1961 BA Russian Bryn Mawr College

Departmental roles

  • Chair of REF Working Group



My research interests are in aspects of phonological development, although I have also long been interested in child bilingualism and in the acquisition of Estonian. Please read more about our research and MA programmes on our website, phonological development.

My primary focus is on the emergence of phonological system in the period of transition into language in the first and second years of life. Recent studies have focused on the interaction of perception and production in this period. We use both infant speech perception techniques (the head turn paradigm, eye tracking) and acoustic analysis for these studies.

A recent focus of our research team has been on the quantification of systematicity (or template use) in phonological development, based on the study of longitudinal data from children acquiring a range of different languages (Arabic, both American and British English, Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish, French, Italian, Japanese, and Welsh) as well as from late talkers acquiring English. In addition, one of our ESRC funded projects included experimental studies of the psychological significance of templates. Members of this research effort include Professor Sophie Wauquier (Université Paris 8), Dr. Rory DePaolis (James Madison University, Virginia) and Dr. Ghada Khattab (Newcastle) as well as Dr. Tamar Keren-Portnoy (York).


  • Economic and Social Research Council
    2011-2012 Effects of input on early word learning. Co-I with T. Keren-Portnoy. This project involved two infant speech perception studies. In one, we recorded families interacting with their 6-month-old infants to determine relative frequency of use and variability in the form of the child’s name, in order to establish the effect, if any, of frequency and variability on retention of the target words in an experiment that replicated Bortfeld, Morgan, Golinkoff & Rathbun (2005); the final results remain to be analysed.

    In the second study we used controlled reading to 12-month-olds of a specially prepared picture book in which words (names of relatively uncommon animals) were presented either in isolation or sentence-finally. This was then followed by a head-turn experiment to determine which words were better learned.

  • Economic and Social Research Council
    2009-2011 Psychological reality of early word templates: A cross-linguistic study. Co-I with T. Keren-Portnoy, R. A. DePaolis, G. Khattab & S. Wauquier. This study was designed to explore the idea of whole-word phonology, or phonological templates, in several ways:
    • experimentally, we have tested over 30 two-year-olds on both word-form recognition and word learning, using stimuli designed to fit patterns that the children were found to be using in production.
    • typologically, we are following 6-10 children in each of three locations – Beirut, Paris, and York – from the end of the single-word period to one year later.
  • Economic and Social Research Council
    2009-1010 Exploring cultural impact on segmentation and first word recognition. T. Keren-Portnoy, M. M. Vihman & R. A. DePaolis. ESRC. This study looked at differences in the US vs. the UK in both infant-directed speech in the prelinguistic period and in early word recognition and segmentation.


  • Rory DePaolis
  • Tamar Keren-Portnoy


  • Marta Szreder (Poland; from October 2010)
  • Parastou Marvasti (Iran; from January 2011)
  • Fátima Almeida (Brazil; from November 2010-2011)
  • Mariam Dar (Pakistan; from October 2012)
  • Catherine Smith Laing (UK; from October 2012)
  • Huma Anwar (Pakistan; from October 2013)
  • Lena Renner (Germany; co-supervision with Ulla Sundberg, Stockholm, from Spring 2014)

Postdoctoral consultant

  • Susana Correia (Portugal)
  • Nina Gram Garmann (Norway)
  • Osnat Segal (Israel)


Full publications list

Publications since 2000:

Contact details

Professor Marilyn Vihman
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
Room: V/C/207
Vanbrugh College C Block

Tel: (0)1904 323612