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Dr Paul Ibbotson

Profile summary

Professional biography

Dr. Paul Ibbotson is a senior 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.

Language Acquisition: The Basics 

Language Acquisition: The Basics is an accessible introduction to the must-know issues in child language development. Covering key topics drawn from contemporary psychology, linguistics and neuroscience, readers are introduced to fundamental concepts, methods, controversies, and discoveries. It follows the remarkable journey children take; from becoming sensitive to language before birth, to the time they string their first words together; from when they use language playfully, to when they tell stories, hold conversations, and share complex ideas. Using examples from seventy-three different languages, Ibbotson sets this development in a diverse cross-cultural context, as well as describing the universal psychological foundations that allow language to happen. This book, which includes further reading suggestions in each chapter and a glossary of key terms, is the perfect easy-to-understand introductory text for students, teachers, clinicians or anyone interested in language development. Drawing together the latest research on typical, atypical and multilingual development, it is the concise beginners guide to the field.

Reviews of Language Acquisition: The Basics

"Language Acquisition: The Basics is very balanced and well-written, the structure is clear and user-friendly, and I like the inclusion of different sign languages - an excellent book" 

Cholë Marshall, Professor of Psychology, Language and Education at University College London, Editor-in-Chief of the journal First Language.  

“The book gives plenty of good examples from child language, not just from English. But most importantly, it explains the many different experimental methods used in acquisition research, as well as the cognitive, data-driven learning mechanisms at stake.”

Heike Behrens Professor of Cognitive Linguistics and Language Acquisition Research, University of Basel and Editorial Board of The Journal of Child Language

"I enjoyed reading it, a cool format!"

Patricia Brooks, Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York, director of the Language Learning Laboratory



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 brought 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.

Reviews of What It Takes To Talk 

“A super book! this is just the kind of reorientation that the field needs - a very well-argued and compelling monograph”

Professor Nick Chaterauthor of The Language Game, Creating Language and Empiricism and Language Learnability 

"In all, Paul Ibbotson’s book is compact, rich in research-based information and very clear both in structure and in message. It is valuable, for example, to those linguists like myself who have thus far sought corresponding information from studies of cognitive psychology. In addition, it is likely that a reader familiar with child language studies will revisit existing findings from a more wide-ranging perspective...Overall, I consider the book to be informative and enlightening for researchers and teachers of any disciplines who are interested in language acquisition and the relationship between language and cognition"

 Dr. Maija Surakka, book review in First Language 2021;41(5):671-673.

"The book proposes an integrative approach offered by Developmental Cognitive Linguistics to study language acquisition, which provides fresh insights into how and why language develops the way it does. It not only highlights the importance of social and cognitive capabilities in language acquisition, but also bridges the gap between Cognitive Linguistics and language acquisition, which reflects the cross-disciplinary trend in linguistic studies. It contributes substantially to the existing literature of language acquisition, Cognitive Linguistics, psycholinguistics and psychology. As such, it is highly recommended to researchers who are interested in these areas."

Yanyan Jiang & Shuqiong Wu, book review in Interaction Studies 2022; 23(1):143-149

"The book offers a fresh insight into the area of language and cognition, leading readers to be interested in further exploring the nature of the language learning process from the cognitive perspective."

Yufei Ren, Tsinghua University, book review for Linguist List 


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. He has communicated his research and the research of colleagues in his field to a general audience in popular science writing for The Guardian, Scientific American, The Conversation and The British Psychological Society.

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

Open Access works include: 

The Development of Working Memory: Sex Differences in Reaction Times and Accuracy, Journal of Cognition and Development

The Development of Executive Function: Mechanisms of Change and Functional PressuresJournal of Cognition and Development

Working memory training improves children's syntactic ability but not vice versa: A randomized control trialJournal of Experimental Child Psychology

The structure of executive functioning in 11- to 14-year-olds with and without special educational needs British Journal of Developmental Psychology

Dying to cooperate: the role of environmental harshness in human collaboration Behavioral Ecology

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)
  • Prof. Anna Theaksron (University of Manchester, UK) 
  • Dr Kristina Nilsson Björkenstam (Stockholm University, Sweden.)
  • Prof. Christoph Hauert (University of British Columbia, Canada)
  • Dr. Vsevolod Salnikov (University of Namur, Belgium)
  • Prof. Lucy Henry (City University, London)
  • Prof. Henrik Danielson (Linköping Uinversity, Sweden)
  • Prof. Karen Page (University College London)
  • Dr Stefan Hartmnan (Heinrich-Heine-University Dusseldorf, Germany)
  • Dr. Nicolas Kock (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany)
  • Dr. Antje Quick (University of Leipzig, Germany) 
  • Prof. William Browne (University of Bristol, UK)
  • Dr. Bruce Rawlings (University of Durham, UK)




Working memory training improves children’s syntactic ability but not vice versa: A randomized control trial (2023-03)
Roque-Gutierrez, Ernesto and Ibbotson, Paul
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 227, Article 105593

The Development of Executive Function: Mechanisms of Change and Functional Pressures (2023)
Ibbotson, Paul
Journal of Cognition and Development, 24(2) (pp. 172-190)

The Development of Working Memory: Sex Differences in Accuracy and Reaction Times (2023)
Ibbotson, Paul and Roque-Gutierrez, Ernesto
Journal of Cognition and Development, 24(4) (pp. 581-597)

The structure of executive functioning in 11 to 14 year olds with and without special educational needs (2022-08-05)
Messer, David; Kearvell‐White, Jennifer; Danielsson, Henrik; Faulkner, Dorothy; Henry, Lucy and Ibbotson, Paul
British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 40(3) (pp. 453-470)

Dying to cooperate: the role of environmental harshness in human collaboration (2022-01)
Ibbotson, Paul; Jimenez-Romero, Cristian and Page, Karen M.
Behavioral Ecology, 33(1) (pp. 190-201)

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 (2015-08)
Theakston, Anna L.; Ibbotson, Paul; Freudenthal, Daniel; Lieven, Elena V. M. and Tomasello, Michael
Cognitive Science, 39(6) (pp. 1369-1395)

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)

Language Acquisition: The Basics (2022-06-29)
Ibbotson, Paul
ISBN : 9781003156536 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London

What it Takes to Talk: Exploring Developmental Cognitive Linguistics (2020-07-20)
Ibbotson, Paul
Cognitive Linguistics Research [CLR]
ISBN : 9783110644418 | Publisher : De Gruyter Mouton | Published : Berlin

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