I am currently working on three lines of research that cover rather distinct fields.
The first is concerned with the acquisition of grammatical gender in young and adult learners of German. Grammatical gender in German is notoriously hard to acquire, even for learners of German as a first language. One reason for this might be that there are only few consistent phonological and semantic rules indicating the gender subclasses of simple (i. e. monomorphemic) nouns in children’s early vocabulary. Syntactic cues, such as the articles preceding a noun, are most reliable; however, they are much harder to extract. In research carried out with my (former) PhD students Johanna Bebout, Hendrike Frieg and Sarah Kuba, we have investigated whether the input learners receive can be optimized such that they can pick up on syntactic cues more easily. Indeed, this seems to be the case for both adults (Bebout & Belke, 2017) and children aged 4 to 6 years (Kuba et al., in press; Belke et al., in prep.). We have implemented these findings in materials for facilitating grammar acquisition in German, especially the acquisition of grammatical gender (Kauffeldt et al., 2014; von Lehmden et al., 2017; see also Belke et al., 2020).
In another line of research we work on the role of orthography acquisition in becoming literate. Being literate can be defined as mastering literate and non-literate, orate registers in such a way that one can participate in different social situations in a linguistically adequate manner. In Germany, the likelihood of a child to attain high levels of literacy is linked more strongly to the socioeconomic status of the family than in most other EU countries. Understanding orthography as a code for grammatical relations is a critical prerequisite for beginning readers/writers to process increasingly complex, literate texts. We hypothesize that implicitly acquired morphosyntactic and orthographic skills are an essential fundament of a strong proficiency in reading and writing and should be reflected in solid knowledge about the statistical properties of orthography. We have tested and are still testing predictions from this hypothesis about relevant influences on spelling accuracy (Laarmann-Quante et al., 2019; Laarmann-Quante, 2020) and on linguistic and graphomotor encoding processes in beginning and advanced writers (Belke et al., in prep.).
Finally, I have worked a lot on lexical-semantic encoding in word production. This line of research deals with how speakers manage to retrieve words from the mental lexicon. Word retrieval is at the heart of successful and fluent language production, which is critically dependent on speakers finding the right words at the right time. If they fail to do so, their utterances become dysfluent and communication is disrupted. However, such disruptions occur relatively rarely in the speech of healthy speakers. In fact, one of the most striking phenomena in language production is the apparent effortlessness and swiftness with which speakers complete a task as complex as lexical access. Accordingly, until today, psycholinguists have devoted almost forty years of intensive research to lexical access in language production. I have put a special focus on the effects of manipulations of semantic context on lexical-semantic encoding (e. g., Belke et al., 2005; Belke, 2013; Belke & Stielow, 2013; Belke et al., 2017).
My research has been funded primarily by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the VolkswagenFoundation (VW-Stiftung).