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Elissa L. Newport is George Eastman Professor of Brain & Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics at the University of Rochestermarker. She specializes in language acquisition and developmental psycholinguistics, focusing on the relationship between language development and language structure.


Newport received a Ph.D from the University of Pennsylvaniamarker in 1975, where her advisors were Lila Gleitman and Henry Gleitman. She was a member of the faculty in the Department of Psychology at the University of California, San Diegomarker and the University of Illinois before joining the faculty at the University of Rochestermarker, where she currently serves as Chair of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Research interests

Newport studies both normal acquisition and creolization using miniature languages presented to learners in the lab, where both the input and the structure of the language can be controlled, to see how the learning process (called "statistical learning") actually works. A second line of research concerns maturational effects on language learning, comparing children to adults as first and second language learners, and asking why children, who are more limited in most cognitive domains, perform better than adults in language acquisition. She also conducts studies of human learners acquiring musical and other nonlinguistic patterns, and of nonhuman primates attempting to learn the same materials, to see where sequential learning, and the constraints on such learning, differ across species and domains. Finally, a long-term interest concerns understanding why languages universally display certain types of structures, and considers whether constraints on pattern learning in children may provide part of the basis for universal regularities in languages of the world.

Less is more hypothesis

One of Newport's most well-known contributions to the field of language acquisition research is the less is more hypothesis. In this hypothesis, Newport posits that children are better able to learn languages than adults because they have fewer cognitive resources available to them. This is advantageous because children don't have to take inventory of as large of a store of cognitive tools as adults, so they can apply the cognitive mechanisms that they do have available to them to language learning more efficiently and effectively than adults.


Newport has been recognized by a number of organizations for the impact of her theoretical and empirical contributions to the field of language acquisition. She has been elected as a fellow in the American Psychological Association, the Society for Experimental Psychologists, the Cognitive Science Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciencesmarker, and the National Academy of Sciencesmarker. Her research is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Healthmarker, the National Science Foundation, the McDonnell Foundation, and the Packard Foundation.

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