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Dr Paul Ibbotson

Profile summary

Professional biography

Dr. Paul Ibbotson is a lecturer in Developmental Psychology at The Open University. Previously he worked as a Research Fellow at the Max Planck Child Study Centre, University of Manchester. He holds qualifications in Linguistics (MA; UCL) and Psychology (PGDip; Nottingham, PhD; Manchester). 

Research interests

Paul’s research interests and expertise lie at the intersection between language and cognition. He has applied this interest to understanding how children learn language. His work reveals the deep connections between the linguistic system and general psychological processes such as attention, inhibition and memory. The aim is that we can build better models of child language development if we integrate their developing social and cognitive worlds as well. These ideas have recently been brough together in this book: 

What It Takes To Talk: Exploring Developmental Cognitive Linguistics 

This book puts cognition back at the heart of the language learning process and challenges the idea that language acquisition can be meaningfully understood as a purely linguistic phenomenon. For each domain placed under the spotlight - memory, attention, inhibition, categorisation, analogy and social cognition - the book examines how they shape the development of sounds, words and grammar. The unfolding cognitive and social world of the child interacts with, constrains, and predicts language use at its deepest levels. The conclusion is that language is special, not because it is an encapsulated module separate from the rest of cognition, but because of the forms it can take rather than the parts it is made of, and because it could be nature’s finest example of cognitive recycling and reuse.


Impact and engagement

By developing this line of research, the field of ‘developmental cognitive linguistics’ is revealing some fresh insights into how and why language develops the way it does. Paul has contributed to this by providing conceptual, analytical and methodological innovations. For example, using Google Ngram to answer questions about historical linguistics; developing an open-access child language analytic tool; providing models of how cognitive and social processes narrow the degrees of freedom on linguistic generalisations.  He has communicated his research and the research of colleagues in his field to a general audience in popular science writing in The Guardian and Scientific American

A network of one mother's speech to their child:

Open Access works include: 

Effort Perception is Made More Accurate with More Effort and When Cooperating with Slackers Nature - Scientific Reports 

The Scope of Usage-Based Theory Frontiers in Psychology 

Inhibitory Control Predicts Grammatical Ability PLoS ONE 


External collaborations

  • Prof. Michael Tomasello  (Duke University, USA).
  • Dr. Rose M. Hartman (University of Oregon, USA.
  • Prof. Elena Lieven (University of Manchester, UK)
  • Dr Kristina Nilsson Björkenstam (Stockholm University, Sweden.)
  • Prof. Christoph Hauert (The University of British Columbia, Canada)


A dynamic network analysis of emergent grammar (2019-12-01)
Ibbotson, Paul; Salnikov, Vsevolod and Walker, Richard
First Language, 39(6) (pp. 652-680)

Effort Perception is Made More Accurate with More Effort and When Cooperating with Slackers (2019)
Ibbotson, Paul; Hauert, Christoph and Walker, Richard
Scientific reports, 9, Article 17491

Goldilocks Forgetting in Cross-Situational Learning (2018-08-15)
Ibbotson, Paul; López, Diana G. and McKane, Alan J.
Frontiers in Psychology: Cognition, 9, Article 1301

[Book review] Jacqueline Evers-Vermeul and Elena Tribushinina (Eds.), Usage-based approaches to language acquisition and language teaching (2018-04-01)
Ibbotson, Paul
First Language, 38(2) (pp. 218-221)

Frequency filter: an open access tool for analysing language development (2018)
Ibbotson, Paul; Hartman, Rose M. and Björkenstam, Kristina Nilsson
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 33(10) (pp. 1325-1339)

Inhibitory Control Predicts Grammatical Ability (2015-12-14)
Ibbotson, Paul and Kearvell-White, Jennifer
PLoS ONE, 10, Article e0145030(12)

Productivity of noun slots in verb frames (2015-01)
Theakston, Anna L.; Ibbotson, Paul; Freudenthal, Daniel; Lieven, Elena V. M. and Tomasello, Michael
Cognitive Science ((In press))

Little dictators: a developmental meta-analysis of prosocial behavior (2014-12-25)
Ibbotson, Paul
Current Anthropology, 55(6) (pp. 814-821)

Group level expression encoded in the individual. Commentary on "The cultural evolution of emergent group-level traits" (2014-06-27)
Ibbotson, Paul
Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37(3) (pp. 261-262)

The role of semantics, pre-emption and skew in linguistic distributions: the case of the un-construction (2013-12-25)
Ibbotson, Paul
Frontiers in Psychology, 4, Article 989

The scope of usage-based theory (2013-05-08)
Ibbotson, Paul
Frontiers in Psychology, 4, Article 255

The attention-grammar interface: eye-gaze cues structural choice in children and adults (2013-05)
Ibbotson, Paul; Elena, Lieven and MIchael, Tomasello
Cognitive Linguistics, 24(3) (pp. 457-481)

Semantics of the transitive construction: prototype effects and developmental comparisons (2012-09)
Ibbotson, Paul; Theakston, Anna; Lieven, Elena and Tomasello, Michael
Cognitive Science, 36(7) (pp. 1268-1288)

A new kind of language (2012-02)
Ibbotson, Paul
The Psychologist, 25(2) (pp. 122-125)

Abstracting grammar from social–cognitive foundations: a developmental sketch of learning (2011-12)
Ibbotson, Paul
Review of General Psychology, 15(4) (pp. 331-343)

The role of pronoun frames in early comprehension of transitive constructions in English (2011-01-13)
Ibbotson, Paul; Theakston, Anna; Lieven, Elena and Tomasello, Michael
Language Learning and Development, 7(1) (pp. 24-39)

Prototype constructions in early language acquisition (2009-05-14)
Ibbotson, Paul and Tomasello, Michael
Language and Cognition, 1(1) (pp. 59-85)

Analogical mapping in construction learning (2012-07-20)
Ibbotson, Paul and Tomasello, Michael
In: Robinson, Peter ed. Routledge Encyclopedia of Second Language Acquisition (p 21)
ISBN : 978-0-415-87751-0 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon

Child language acquisition (2012)
Ibbotson, Paul
In: Clayton, Dan ed. Language: A Student Handbook On Key Topics And Theories (pp. 117-133)
ISBN : 9781906101237 | Publisher : English & Media Centre | Published : London