About our Research

Young children learn the meanings of thousands of words by the time they can run down the street. The computational problem they solve is daunting: extracting discrete word forms from a sequence of continuous speech signals and mapping these forms onto their meanings. Yet, the same children who solve this problem continuously forget where they left their coats and hats. How do children learn language so quickly despite cognitive constraints on memory, attention, and information processing?

Our work tries to resolve this puzzle by reframing language acquisition as a coordination problem. The problem is not how children learn language, but how parents and children construct it together.




We analyze this coordination by taking an end-to-end approach to understanding early language acquisition, studying it at multiple levels. Our first line of work investigates the representations and algorithms that children and adults bring to the learning problem. Our second line of work investigates the natural ecological contexts in which language acquisition occurs. Finally, our third line of work uses computational models to formalize the interactions between learner and environment. Successes and failures of language learning emerge from the match (or mismatch) between the learning mechanisms available to the child and the structure of the learning environment.


Principal Investigator

Daniel Yurovsky

Email     Website     GitHub

Dan was an undergrad computer science major at Carnegie Mellon before completing a PhD in Cognitive Psychology at Indiana University and doing a postdoc in Psych Department at Stanford. He is broadly interested in how we learn from the people around us, and especially how children learn language. Dan is excited about understanding communication and learning from a systems perspective.

Lab Manager

Josef Klafka


Joe graduated from the University of Chicago with a BS in Mathematics and BA in Linguistics. He is interested in child information-processing strategies and their application to models of machine learning.

PhD Students

Claire Bergey


Claire is a second-year PhD student in the Cognition program. She studied psychology and cognitive science at Williams College. She is interested in language and category acquisition.


Ashley Leung


Ashley is a second-year PhD student in Psychology at the University of Chicago. She graduated from Middlebury College with a BA in Psychology and English & American Literatures. She is broadly interested in child language acquisition, and she is currently studying how parent-child communication influences language learning.


Ben Morris


Ben received his Masters in Developmental Psychology at the University of Cambridge working with Claire Hughes. Ben has a B.A. in Psychology from Reed College, where he worked with Jennifer Corpus. He is primarily interested optimal word learning strategies and their connection to early cognitive development.

Masters Students

Jo Denby


Jo Denby is a Masters student in the Computational Social Science program. He graduated from Cornell University with a BA in Psychology and Philosophy. Broadly, he is interested in using big data and computational modeling techniques to research linguistic development.


Xiuyuan Zhang


Xiuyuan is a second-year student in the Masters Program of Computational Social Science. She graduated from St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD with a concentration on philosophy, history of mathematics and science, and classics. Xiuyuan is interested in language acquisition, semantic memory, and the the evolution of language.

Research Assistants

Maria Hatzisavas

Maria is a third-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago, majoring in Public Policy. She became interested in child language acquisition when she noticed that some children abroad seemed to have a linguistic eloquence that exceeded their age level, resulting in her interest as to how a child’s cultural upbringing could influence their language development.


Maddie Meyers

Maddie is a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago, majoring in Comparative Human Development and Psychology. Her research interests include language evolution and how children use social and pragmatic cues to facilitate language acquisition. She is currently working on her honors thesis project which investigates how parents help to retain structure in language through their correction of children's errors.


Alexandra Tunkel

Alexandra is a third-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago, double majoring in Biology and Psychology. She is interested in the application of these two fields in child development.


Emmi Russo

Emmi completed her undergrad at the University of Chicago with a double major in Computer Science and Psychology. She researched social-cognitive development and how the processes of cognition, language, and learning interact.


Yawen Yu


Yawen is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago, Master of Arts Program in Humanities. She researched how parent-child interaction can influence early language acquisition. At the Communication and Learning Lab, she worked on lexical diversity in CHILDES corpora.

For Parents

Thank you so much for your interest in our research! Families like yours can help us answer questions about how children learn about language.

If you are interested in participating in our research here at the Center for Early Childhood Research at the University of Chicago, please click here to sign up!

You can also reach out to us directly by emailing us or calling 773-834-9769.

How long do studies usually last?

We usually schedule for one hour, however appointments typically last for less than 30 minutes.

What if my child becomes fussy or bored during the study?

Involvement in research is entirely voluntary. Your child can stop at any time.

Will I be with my child during the study?

If you wish, you may stay with your child during the entire study.

Can I bring my other children with me?

Absolutely! We have a comfortable waiting room with plenty of toys to play with!

What if I need to reschedule my appointment?

Please call the Lab at (773) 834-9769 if you need to change or cancel your appointment.

Have more questions?   Email us!

Join our Lab!

We are always looking for motivated, passionate students and researchers to join our team. Please contact us if you have any questions about our work!

Undergraduate Opportunities: The Communication and Learning Lab has openings for undergraduates to gain research experience working as RAs. As a research assistant in CaLLab, you could be involved in research at every step of the process, from developing research questions and creating stimuli to recruiting subjects and testing participants. If you would like to hear more about working as an RA, please contact our lab manager Josef Klafka (jklafka [at] uchicago [dot] edu).

Interested in graduate study at the University of Chicago? Visit the Psychology Department page for more information on graduate programs offered at the University of Chicago and the application process. Please contact Professor Yurovsky if you are interested in pursuing graduate research in the Communication and Learning Lab.

Contact Us

contact information

  • Monday - Friday: 9 AM to 5 PM

  • Phone: (773) 834-9769