Tamar Keren-Portnoy
Senior Lecturer



Tamar Keren-Portnoy is a developmental psychologist, specialising in the study of first language acquisition. Her main interests are in child phonology and early syntax. She studies the move from babble to first words and very early syntax, focussing on the effects of production on perception, memory and future learning. She received her BA, MA and PhD in Psychology from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.


2014 - Senior Lecturer University of York
2010 - 2014 Lecturer University of York
2006 - 2010 Research Fellow University of York
2003 - 2006 Research Officer, School of Psychology University of Wales
2002 PhD in Psychology Hebrew University of Jerusalem
1997 MA in Psychology Hebrew University of Jerusalem
1992 BA in Psychology and General studies Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Departmental roles

  • Undergraduate Admissions Tutor
  • Outreach Coordinator
  • Coordinator for Postgraduate Training



My primary focus in studying both syntactic and phonological development has been on understanding how current skills promote further learning. In syntax this has meant studying facilitation effects of early verbs or structures on later ones, as well as understanding what makes new learning easy or hard. In phonology I am interested in understanding the contribution of sound production (babble or speech) on the way infants and toddlers listen to language, perceive and remember new words. I am also more generally interested in understanding how phonological knowledge is constructed in its very early stages in both typically developing and late-to-talk toddlers. In all my research I take an empiricist, constructivist, perspective.

I use naturalistic observation data as well as experimental methods with both infants and toddlers. The infant experiments have involved Head Turn Preference Procedure, and the toddler experiments make use of word learning and word identification tasks.


  • Economic and Social Research Council 
2009-2012. 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 is 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.
    • quantitatively, we intend to test the relationship of template use to rate of word learning.
  • 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 has been looking at differences in the US vs. the UK in both infant-directed speech in the prelinguistic period and in early word recognition and segmentation.

Past grants:

  • Economic and Social Research Council 2006-2009. Late talking toddlers: Relating phonological to lexical development. M. Vihman, T. Keren-Portnoy, & J. Lum.
  • Economic and Social Research Council 2007-2009 Dynamic interactions between perception and production: An Integrated experimental and observational study. M. Vihman & T. Keren-Portnoy.
  • Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship within the 6th European Community Framework Programme. 2004-2006 The role of production practice in language development.


  • Marilyn Vihman
  • Rory DePaolis
  • Paul Foulkes
  • Eytan Zweig
  • Michael Keren

External activities


  • 2010 -, Member of ESRC Peer Review College

Contact details

Tamar Keren-Portnoy
Senior Lecturer
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
Room: V/B/220, Vanbrugh College B Block
University of York
YO10 5DD

Tel: (0)1904 323614