Amy Bidgood on helping children learn what not to say

Amy is in the third year of a part-time PhD in the Child Language Study Centre, part of the Department of Psychological Sciences


“I moved to Liverpool from the University of York almost three years ago to work as a Research Assistant on one of Dr Ben Ambridge’s research projects. I was lucky to be able to take up a part-time PhD alongside my RA role, which has allowed me to look in more depth at some of the things Ben’s research project is investigating.

As adults,  we can create a potentially infinite number of new sentences that we haven’t heard before. For example, for many years, I’ve been able to email people. More recently, I’ve been able to Facebook them, too.

How language works

Now I could Snapchat or Whatsapp them – terms that didn’t exist just a few years ago, but that I already know how to use. It’s possible to make (and understand) these new sentences by generalising from what we already know about how language works.

When children are learning to talk, they have to learn to generalise patterns in language for their speech to become like the adults around them. If they didn’t, their language would be very limited and formulaic.“If you’ve ever heard a young child talking, it’s likely you’ll have heard them say things like We goed to the park or I sitted down. In these examples, the child has ‘overgeneralised’ the regular –ed ending pattern for making the past tense in English”

However, children also face a problem: if they generalise the patterns too far, they’ll say something ungrammatical. If you’ve ever heard a young child talking, it’s likely you’ll have heard them say things like We goed to the park or I sitted down. In these examples, the child has ‘overgeneralised’ the regular –ed ending pattern for making the past tense in English. Some children also make overgeneralisation errors with whole sentences, like The magician disappeared the rabbit or Don’t giggle me. These types of errors come about because children hear lots of examples of verbs used in both intransitive and transitive sentences, e.g. The plate broke (intransitive) and Homer broke the plate (transitive).

Many verbs work like this: The window opened > Marge opened the window, The ball bounced > Lisa bounced the ball, etc. In each of the transitive examples here, the person is causing the action (breaking/opening/bouncing) to occur. The magician disappeared the rabbit, meaning something like ‘the magician caused the rabbit to disappear’,  is a perfectly logical extension of the pattern children have heard with verbs like break, open and bounce.

“There are 2 main theories. The first is that children learn from the statistical properties of the speech they hear, so they hear disappear and giggle used lots of times. The second theory is about semantics: there is something about the meaning of verbs like disappear and giggle that mean they are ungrammatical in transitive sentences”

As well as generalising patterns (whether in words of sentences) children need to learn how to restrict the generalisations to avoid errors. My research is about the mechanisms involved in this learning process. There are 2 main theories. The first is that children learn from the statistical properties of the speech they hear, so they hear disappear and giggle used lots of times, but never in a transitive sentence. From this, they infer that these verbs can’t be used that way.

The second theory is about semantics: there is something about the meaning of verbs like disappear and giggle that mean they are ungrammatical in transitive sentences. Once children have a more complete understanding of the verb’s meaning, they will realise that these sentences aren’t possible.I’ve been testing the predictions of these theories in a number of ways, running experiments with children in schools as well as with adults here at the University.For example, I use a grammaticality judgment task to see what children (and adults) think sounds grammatical or not.They watch short videos on a computer and hear sentences describing what’s happening.

Statistical learning

The sentences might be grammatical (e.g. The girl giggled) or ungrammatical (e.g. Bart giggled the girl). Participants in the study use a ‘smiley face’ scale to tell me what they think of the sentence – is it good, silly or somewhere in between?

We can then see if the ungrammatical sentences are judged to be worse if the verb is very common (e.g. laugh) in comparison with less common or very rare words (e.g. giggle or chortle). If this is the case (which we have found in several studies), then it is likely that there is an element of statistical learning going on when children learn what not to say, since the more they hear a verb used correctly, the worse they think it sounds when it’s in an ungrammatical sentence.

My first paper investigating children’s overgeneralisation errors was recently published, so please have a look if you’d like to find out more about my research.”

Amy will be teaching a 5 week course How do Children Learn Language from Tuesday 14 October, 7-9pm with Continuing Education – for more information on this course, and to enrol and pay click here

Continuing Education at the International Festival of Business 2014 – Pop Up Shop

We are delighted to be announce that we will taking up residence at the University of Liverpool pop up shop in Liverpool One, Manesty’s Lane, opposite Waterstone’s book shop.

From Friday the 4th of July until Wednesday 9th July we will have a variety of activities for you to enjoy! All our activities are free to attend, a daily diary is listed below;

Language learning at the University of Liverpool with Continuing Education and Cultures Languages and Area Studies

Join us over 2 days as we explore the languages and culture of our global cousins – we will provide short tasters in French, German, and Mandarin that will introduce you to the languages and culture, and you can speak to our staff and discuss the possibilities for you to learn that language that have always promised you will!

Friday 4 July

Date Time Title Description
4 July   2014 11 – 12pm German –   taster with Ms Hanna Magedera Join us for this short taste of German – learn a little of the   language and culture of one of the UK’s most important European partners.
4 July   2014 12.30 –   1.30pm Mandarin –   taster with Liverpool Confucius Institute A tonal language Mandarin is increasingly important as a global   language. Our short taster will introduce you to the basics of Chinese Mandarin.
4 July   2014 2 – 3pm French –   taster with Dr Jonathan Lewis The most popular foreign
language for UK learners, this taster will guide you through some basics and teach a little of the culture of one of our closest European partners.

Saturday 5 July

5 July   2014 11 – 12pm Why study   languages with Dr Ulrike Bavendiek We’ve all said it – ‘I’d love to speak a foreign language’ – but the   UK still lags behind the rest of Europe in language learning – Dr Ulrike   Bavendiek will guide you through the benefits of learning a language in this insightful talk
5 July   2014 12.30 –   1.30pm Mandarin –   taster with Liverpool Confucius Institute A tonal language Mandarin is increasingly important as a global   language. Our short taster will introduce you to the basics of Chinese Mandarin.
5 July   2014 2 – 3pm French – taster with Ms
Sylvie Romat
The most popular foreign language for UK learners, this taster will guide you through some basics and teach a little of the culture of our closest
European partners.

Continuing Education at the University of Liverpool has been providing accessible and valuable course to Liverpool and Merseyside region since 1889. To help celebrate the launch of our latest programme we will run a number of activites for you over the next three days. All events provided will be free to attend – if you require further information email us at

Monday 7 July

7 July   2014 12-2pm Continuing   Education Prospectus Launch – invitation only. Continuing Education has been providing courses for the public since   1889, and we will be launching the 2014-15 prospectus.
7 July   2014 2 – 2.30pm Extracts   of a Grand Tour with Dr Chris Routledge In the 18th and 19th centuries wealthy young men embarked on tours   around the great cities of Europe and elsewhere, adding first-hand knowledge   of art, architecture and other cultures to their formal education. These   extracts and commentaries give a taste of the Grand Tour and introduce one of   our themes for 2014.
7 July   2014 3-3.30pm A Sunday   Ramble through Liverpool’s slums 1861 with Dr Alastair Wilcox One hot summer’s day on a Sunday in 1861 a journalist took a   ‘ramble’ along Liverpool’s dockside area from Toxteth in the south to   Vauxhall in the north observing Liverpool at play. He found this experience a   shocking one. Using maps and the contemporary text we shall attempt to   retrace his journey.
7 July   2014 3 – 4pm Architectural Walk with Julie Robson With over 2,500 listed buildings – Liverpool is an architectural   delight, join us for this summer stroll to some carefully chosen gems!
7 July   2014 6.30 – 7pm The Rise   of the Dragon and the Lion: The rise of China as a superpower with Stuart   Sime Chinese economic growth is having an impact around the world – join   us as we explore China’s future from an economic perspective.

Tuesday 8 July

8 July   2014 12-1.30pm Archaeological   Handling Session with Dr Glenn Godenho Join us for this fascinating guide to some of the artefacts of the   Garstang Museum. You will be able to see first-hand some archaeological   treasures, and hear about their discovery.
8 July   2014 1-1.30pm Nathaniel Hawthorne on Merseyside with Dr Katharine Easterby One of the United States’ most celebrated and influential writers –   join us as we discuss his time as US consult in Liverpool.
8 July   2014 2-2.30pm Creative   Writing Workshop with –Eleanor Rees Are you waiting to begin that ‘novel’? Why not pop along and join us   for this taster workshop in Creative Writing.
8 July   2014 6.30-7pm Introduction   to Digital Marketing with Carol Brown This taste of Digital Marketing will introduce you to the basics needed   to grow a business or social enterprise.

Wednesday 9 July

9 July   2014 12   -12.30pm Art   History at the University of Liverpool with Dr Suzanne May With over 550 students in 2013-14 the Continuing Education art   history programme is a thriving and vibrant. Why not pop along today as   Academic Organiser Dr Suzanne May provides an overview of the teaching of the   history of art and fine arts in Liverpool, and a taste of what you can expect   from us in 2014-15
9 July   2014 1-1.30pm ‘A Huge Wave of Zombies is Approaching’: A study of the cultural metaphors of zombies used in audio-visual media A bite-size insight into research

This is an opportunity to hear about innovative research taking place at the University of Liverpool.  The talk is for 20 minutes with an opportunity for questions and answers following.  Cold drinks will be available.

Why is our modern culture obsessed with zombies? It was once  vampires, now we are inundated with the other type of ‘undead’ . We’ll be   exploring this cultural phenomenon and asking questions about what zombies  mean to our modern culture, what they suggest about class, race and sexuality.

9 July   2014 2-2.30pm Poetry   Reading with Dr Gladys Mary Coles Led by an experienced and widely celebrated poet, join us for this   poetry reading.
9 July   2014 6.30-7pm Natural   Hazards with Hazel Clark This brief taster will introduce you to the risks involved in   forecasting and preparing for environmental hazards. This is an exciting and   engaging session, that will involve live experiments!


A radical voice for change in mental health

Invites you to
A Talk by Peter Kinderman
Head of the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at the University of Liverpool
“A Psychologist’s Vision of Life Beyond the Illness Model”

Wednesday June 4th 6.30 p.m.

The Quaker Meeting House, School Lane

Followed by discussion and refreshments

This is a free event – Donations are however welcome

Join us for a challenging and stimulating evening


Maritime Public Lecture Series 2014 – World War: From the Front to the Margins

Our Maritime Public Lecture Series are free – however you will need to sign in on the day. If you would like to reserve a place beforehand you can do so by visiting our website Maritime Lectures 2014 .

All lectures take place at the Maritime Museum, Albert Dock – 1-2pm (except the 7 May which will take place 12-1pm).

May 7

* this lecture is 12-1pm

The Front Line at Sea: how the ships and men of the north-west coast held the line.

Discover the response of the north-west coast to the First World War: we associate ‘Make Do and Mend’ and rationing with the Second World War. This talk shows how, with losses outweighing the capacity to build, and the country facing starvation by April 1917, Britain turned to Lancashire trawlers, Mersey ferries, small Cheshire schooners, Liverpool-built ocean liners and concrete ships built in Barrow to make do and mend, and get vital supplies through.

Serena Cant, English Heritage
May 14


Lusitania: Liverpools liners and the First World War

Liverpools RMS Lusitania was a record-breaking world famous ship and her tragic sinking on 7 May 1915 by a German U-boat sent shockwaves around the world. Her loss was felt particularly keenly in Liverpool due to her strong ties to the city, and the fact that so many of her crew were drawn from the area. Find out more about Merseyside Maritime Museums upcoming exhibition to mark the centenary of the sinking, set against the backdrop of the pivotal role that Liverpools seafarers, liners and merchant ships played during the First World War


Ellie Moffat
Merseyside Maritime Museum
May 21


Constructing Conchies: Conscientious Objectors to the Military Service Act 1916

This lecture focuses on the men who conscientiously objected to compulsory military service in WW1, looking at who they were, why and how they resisted, how they were seen and what happened to them. Illustrated by contemporary images, the story told also includes reflections on more recent examples of objection and how we see these men today. The lecture draws upon over 20 years of research on conscientious objection to the military in England and, in particular, Lois’s monograph Telling Tales About Men: Conceptions of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service During the First World War (Manchester: MUP, 2009).

Lois S Bibbings University of Bristol
May 28 A Birkenhead Boy in Bordeaux: Wilfred Owen a Century Ago

Wilfred Owen is the quintessential war poet. He grew up in Oswestry, Birkenhead and Shrewsbury but in 1914 he was living in France. This talk will look at Wilfred Owen’s life in Bordeaux a hundred years ago, before looking at the arrival of the war in the summer of 1914 and Owen’s decision to enlist in 1915. The talk will consider his responses to the war and his reasons for choosing to fight. This lecture will be followed by a short poetry reading. Speaker Dr Guy Cuthbertson, Liverpool Hope University, author of Wilfred Owen (Yale University Press, 2014)

Guy Cuthbertson

Liverpool Hope University



Black Tommies: soldiers of African descent in the First World War

Join author Dr Ray Costello as he talks about his forthcoming book.Ray will give an illustrated talk on this untold history, which highlights some of the many forgotten British-born Black soldiers who played their part including Black Liverpudlians.

Dr Ray Costello

Centre for the Study of International Slavery

June 11 Veiled Warriors: the true story of allied nursing in the First World War

Although allied nurses were admired in their own time for their altruism and courage, their image was distorted by the lens of popular mythology. They came to be seen as self-sacrificing heroines, romantic foils to the male combatant and doctors’ handmaidens, rather than being appreciated as trained professionals performing significant work in their own right.Professor Christine Hallett will challenge these myths to reveal the true story. Drawing upon evidence from archives across the world, she will describe nurses’ wartime experiences and give a clear appraisal of their work and its contribution to the allied cause between 1914 and 1918, on both the Western and the Eastern Fronts.


Christine Hallett, Professor of Nursing History, University of Manchester



How to Build Fractions in Word 2010 by Peter Talent

Word 2010’s AutoCorrect feature can build common fractions for you. Actually, Word doesn’t build fractions as much as it pulls them from a set of existing fraction “characters.”

Word has only a few of those fraction characters. When you need your own, specific fraction, such as 3/64, you can create it on your own:

Step 1 Press Ctrl+Shift+= (the equal sign).
This keyboard shortcut enables the superscript command. (Superscript refers to a letter or number written above and to the side of another).

 Step 2 Type the numerator — the top part of the fraction.
For example, type 3 for 3/64.

Step 3 Press Ctrl+Shift+= again.
This time, the key combo turns off superscripting.

Step 4 Type the slash mark (/). This slash mark becomes the divider in the fraction.

 Step 5 Press Ctrl+= to turn on subscripting.  Subscripting involves a letter or number below and to the side of another.

Step 6 Type the denominator — the bottom part of the fraction.  The denominator in 3/64 is 64.

 Step 7 Press Ctrl+= to turn off subscripting.
There’s your fraction.

Peter will be teaching a 4 week course titled MS Excel 2010 Advanced from Tuesday 29th April. You can book your place here

Access to Learning Fund


The primary purpose of the Access to Learning Fund is to relieve financial hardship that might impact on a student’s participation in higher education.

Full-time and part-time students from the UK are eligible to apply.

Undergraduate students must have applied for their full student loan entitlement or other statutory funding and received the first payment before applying to the Access to Learning Fund. You can also apply if you have suspended your studies due to health reasons or caring responsibilities or you are repeating your course without attendance.

Postgraduate students must be able to show that they have made realistic provision at the start of the course to fund both tuition fees and living costs.

Application forms are available from Student Support Services reception or on request by contacting the Financial Support Team on Once the application form has been completed and the relevant evidence gathered, an appointment will be needed with a Money Adviser.

More information on the Access to Learning Fund can be found at

As well as administering the Access to Learning Fund the Financial Support Team provides the following services:

  • liaising with funding bodies, such as Student Finance England, in complicated situations;
  • advice for students who need to withdraw, suspend or repeat part of their studies advising on the implications on both current and future funding;
  • advice for students experiencing problems with debt;
  • advice on welfare benefits;
  • one-to-one sessions for students who are experiencing problems budgeting their money;
  • financial capability events and workshops to highlight sensible spending.

We are based on the ground floor of the Student Services Centre, if you would like advice or support on any of the above please call in to see us between 9am – 4pm Monday – Friday.

Susan Haimes
Student Administration and Support

Introduction to Classical Mechanics by Stephen Hughes


Introduction to Classical Mechanics by Stephen Hughes

Gravity, a natural phenomenon that keeps our feet firmly on the ground and occasionally permits us to have our heads in the clouds, shapes the Universe by binding vast systems of planets, stars and galaxies together. It is also responsible for the Earth’s dynamic tides and causing apples to fall from trees. Yet it is the weakest of all the fundamental forces that govern how everything interacts with everything else. The other three forces are the strong force, electromagnetism and the weak force, in order of decreasing strength. The strong force binds protons and neutrons together forming the nuclei of atoms. Electromagnetism is responsible for electric charges attracting and repelling one another. This also includes the similar effects experienced by magnets. The familiar behaviour of this force is how opposites attract and likes repel. Finally the weak force, still far stronger than gravity, causes radioactive decay. Why then does gravity have such a big impact on the dynamics of the Universe? The answer to this question has two parts. Firstly the strong and weak forces act only over very short distances, about the same distance as the size of an atoms nucleus. Secondly, although electromagnetism has an infinite range it acts on objects that have either a positive or negative charge. There are usually an equal number of positive and negative charges in a given region so any overall effect cancels out. Gravity in comparison has an infinite range but acts only on objects that have mass, which is always positive. This is how gravity triumphs in governing the large scale dynamics of the Universe. Only one type of mass, positive mass, means gravity causes everything to be attracted to everything else.

When Isaac Newton described gravity mathematically he provided a method to calculate the future position of the planets, the height of the tides and eventually helped land a spacecraft on the moon. The downside to his description is that it gives no indication of how gravity works. What mechanism causes two objects with mass to be attracted towards each other? As astronomical measuring instruments improved it was observed that the predictions regarding Mercury’s position were slightly wrong. Albert Einstein had been thinking about gravity and was interested in this problem with Mercury. His new theory of gravity, general relativity, accounted for this small difference and calculated the correct position of Mercury. It does this by incorporating the strong gravitational effects experienced near to very heavy objects, like the Sun. Mercury, being the closest planet to the Sun, is affected more than any other planet in the solar system. General relativity also gives us an insight into the mechanism that makes gravity work. Space is described as distortable, compressing and stretching in the presence of mass. Space warps around an object with mass, which causes a passing object to follow the shape created by the warped space, giving an illusion of a force acting between the two objects.
Stephen will be leading a fascinating course by Continuing Education titled an Introduction to Classical Mechanics: The Origins of Science from Wednesday 1 October –

Mediterranean Archaeology Day

An introduction to the latest archaeological research from experts in their field, this fascinating event will explore the archaeology of ancient Lycia (modern Turkey).

Lycia is one of the most beautiful yet enigmatic regions of the ancient world,famous for its striking tomb architecture,distinctive mountain culture and largely un-deciphered local script. In the first of a series of Mediterranean Archaeology Research Days,we bring together a group of international scholars working on different aspects of ancient Lycian culture to share and discuss their work on this little-known region of the classical world.

Aimed at researchers,learners and the general public,this
day consists of lively illustrated lectures on all aspects of current research into ancient Lycia,including its landscape,prehistory, pottery,inscriptions and history. There will also be stimulating hands-on demonstrations and display stands during the lunch break.

Price £20 (including lunch and refreshments)

Click here to book your place 

Archaeology Day School on Saturday 23rd November, 10.30-16.00, Eleanor Rathbone Building

Alan Greaves
Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology (ACE)

Reassessing the impact of the slave trade on the economic development and material culture of Liverpool and its hinterland by Alex Robinson

Reassessing the impact of the slave trade on the economic development and material culture of Liverpool and its hinterland

By Alex Robinson

Research on the transatlantic slave trade has been transformed by the internet and digitisation of records. On the one hand, the creation of the National Archives website Tracing your Caribbean Roots has facilitated the attempts by the descendants of enslaved Africans to get to grips with their family history. On the other hand, three recent research programmes have resulted in new evidence about transatlantic slavery – internationally, the Slave Trade Database, nationally, the Legacy of British Slavery Database and locally new field research which has at last meant we can quantify the impact of the slave trade and the plantation trade upon the local and national economy and trace the stream of finance into the key investment and infrastructure projects which made Liverpool the second city of the British Empire.
The Legacy of British Slavery Database has had quite a lot of media attention: it has put online the records of the compensation paid to slave holders after Emancipation in 1834. This database has shown for example that John Gladstone, the father of 19th-century Prime Minister, William Gladstone, received £106,769 (modern equivalent £83m) for the 2,508 slaves he owned across nine plantations. Chancellors and prime ministers figure more than once in this database; one of Mr Cameron’s great-grand-uncles, the second Earl of Fife, was awarded £4,101, equal to more than £3m today, to compensate him for the 202 slaves who were emancipated on the Grange Sugar Estate in Jamaica in 1834. I have Cameron ancestry myself – does this mean I could be implicated? Of course I am implicated – we are all implicated either as descendants of enslaved workers who were forcibly transported from Africa or as descendants of people who prospered as result of transatlantic slavery.
For this course we will use this this new evidence to examine the impact of transatlantic slavery nationally and explore its impact locally, on Liverpool and its immediate hinterland – the Wirral, Cheshire and South West Lancashire, looking at individual case studies of families with slave trade and slave holding backgrounds-like the Earles, the Gladstones, the Gregsons and the Heywoods, for example. The digital information will allow us estimate the importance of transatlantic slavery to the development of the local economy and its material culture, but also to trace this contribution down to the present day.

This course is run in partnership with the Centre for the Study of International Slavery.

Alex will begin a 10 week course on this subject from Thursday 30 January at 126 Mount Pleasant and if you would like to enrol on this course you can do so by emailing or phoning 0151 794 6900.

However if you would like to learn more about the history of slavery, the Centre for the Study of International Slavery (CSIS) – a partnership between the University of Liverpool and National Museums Liverpool has a number of events and workshops. For more information on the CSIS please visit their website at

Exploring Creative Writing with Eleanor Rees

This autumn term sees the return of the popular Exploring Writing course with Eleanor Rees, we asked Eleanor to tell us a little bit more about her course – and the creative writing process.

I’d say the course runs very much like a writers’ group, offering a supportive creative space in which to develop new projects or complete on-going work. I’ve devised the course based on the kind of experience I was looking for when I was developing my first book, and wanting to focus on that project whilst also developing my technique. As a poet form and content are, for me, interwoven so writing new work and sharing it with an appreciative and supportive group was important in understanding how different rhetoric mean different things. This is not an abstract process, but experiential and needs to be learnt through doing. This is what a writing workshop offers the emerging writer. It is also a process all writers engage in points in their writing life when developing new work. I will adapt the exercises, as much as possible, to the interests and needs of the group, also the reading we undertake. Creativity and extending imaginative range are, however, the real focus as both of these qualities are essential to developing exciting new writing. There is no magic formula for creating art. Learning to make good judgements on the writing needs of your project is, though, a key skill. I draw this conclusion based on my experience as a poet with two collections of work under my belt and also from my on-going PhD research into ‘Re-imagining the Local Poet’ with the University of Exeter which explores how context informs poetic practice. But I’d say artistic judgement and creative energy are relevant to writing in all genres and, ambitiously, I think they can be developed and honed in a similar, if different, manner to critical thought.

Creative Play: Stimulus and Support for Your Writing Project with Eleanor begins on Thursday 25 September, 7-9pm for 10 weeks – if you would like to book on this course, the details are here

For more about Eleanor visit her website