Three fully-funded PhD positions on early prosodic development at Utrecht University (1.0 FTE)

Three fully-funded PhD positions on early prosodic development at Utrecht University (1.0 FTE)

Published Deadline Location
15 Oct 8 Nov Utrecht

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Job description

The PhD positions are part of a new research programme on language development at Utrecht University, the Netherlands: “A sound start: Prosodic development before birth and in the first three years of life”. Children show remarkable knowledge of native prosody (i.e. melody and rhythm in speech) at birth and thrive on it in early language and communication development. This programme investigates how children develop prosodic competence so early. Taking an interdisciplinary and crosslinguistic approach, it aims to discern the role of innate mechanisms, uncover learning mechanisms in the auditory modality underlying development spanning prenatal and after-birth periods, and shed light on the role of visual cues to prosody (i.e. speech-accompanying gestures) in after-birth periods. PhD projects 1 and 2 will be concerned with the first two goals in the learning of prosodic phrasing (i.e. grouping sequences of sounds into meaningful units in speech streams) and prosodic formmeaning mappings (i.e. associating prosodic patterns with communicative functions), PhD project 3 with the third goal in both areas of prosodic development. We are seeking to hire three highly motivated, driven, and talented PhD students to conduct these projects in a period of four years.

In PhD project 1, you will examine the role of innate mechanisms and learning mechanisms underlying development in prosodic phrasing. You will work with preterm and full-term neonates born to German and Dutch-speaking families using EEG. You will also work with Dutch-speaking expecting mothers using a prenatal training paradigm.

In PhD project 2, you will examine the role of innate mechanisms and learning mechanisms underlying development in prosodic form-meaning mappings . You will work with Dutch-exposed newborns using EEG and Dutch-speaking expecting mothers using a prenatal training paradigm. You will also conduct corpus-based research on structured mother-child interactions in Indonesian, Swedish and Dutch and non-structured mother-child interactions in Swedish and Dutch.

In PhD project 3, you will study how availability of visual cues to prosody and visual attention to these cues influence the learning of prosodic phrasing and form-meaning mappings (e.g., prosody-to-focus mapping). You will work with Dutch-learning infants and toddlers using behavioural, eye-tracking and EEG techniques.

In this research programme you will work within an interdisciplinary team, closely collaborating with researchers from linguistics, neuroscience, psycholinguistics, psychology and neonatology. You will receive assistance from student assistants in data collection and/or data processing and have the opportunity to develop your academic teaching skills during your project. The PhD projects are funded by a VICI grant (VI.C. 201.109) from the Dutch Research Council (NWO) to Professor Aoju Chen and will be carried out at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, at Utrecht University, the Netherlands.

Tasks for the PhD candidates:

  • completion and defence of an article-based PhD thesis within four years;
  • regular presentation of intermediate research results at workshops and conferences;
  • publication of at least three peer-reviewed articles in established international journals;
  • co-organization of project workshops and conferences;
  • participation in training programmes and expert meetings organised for the project group;
  • participation in relevant training programmes provided by the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS, National Graduate School of Linguistics and other organisations;
  • participation in teaching on relevant areas at the BA or MA level in year 3 of the project.


Utrecht University


The general requirements are:

  • a Master's degree (or equivalent) in linguistics, psycholinguistics, psychology, neuroscience in hand by the starting date;
  • affinity with research on prosodic development;
  • demonstrable knowledge in at least one of the following areas: prosody, phonetics, phonology, language development, early speech perception;
  • high proficiency in academic English;
  • ability to meet deadlines;
  • readiness to learn new research methods and statistical analyses;
  • ability to work both as an independent researcher and as a team member in an interdisciplinary team;
  • strong organizational, social and communication skills;
  • prior experience with conducting EEG research is a plus.

Specific requirements for PhD position 1:

  • prior experience with infant research;
  • high proficiency in German or Dutch is a plus;
  • working knowledge of one of the two languages (German, Dutch) is desirable.

Specific requirements for PhD position 2:

  • prior experience with infant research;
  • high proficiency in Swedish or Dutch is a plus;
  • working knowledge of Indonesian and one of the other two languages (Swedish, Dutch) is desirable.

Specific requirements for PhD position 3:

  • prior experience with eye-tracking (preferably in social settings);
  • demonstrable ability in or affinity with programming;
  • prior experience with working with young children is a plus;
  • high proficiency in Dutch is a plus;
  • prior knowledge of gestures is desirable;
  • working knowledge of Swedish or German is desirable.

Conditions of employment

Each of the PhD positions is offered at 1.0 FTE, starting 1 February 2022, initially for a period of 18 months. A later starting date is negotiable. In case of good performance and a positive evaluation, the contract will be extended for the remaining period of 30 months (4 years in total). The gross salary starts with €2,434 per month in the first year and increases to €3,111 per month in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Employment Agreement of the Dutch Universities) for a full-time employment.
Besides that, you will receive a holiday allowance of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3%. Utrecht University also has an appealing package of terms of employment, including the choice for a good balance between work and private (a good arrangement for leave, among other things), possibilities for development and an excellent pension scheme. More information on working at Utrecht University can be found here.


A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

The Faculty of Humanities has around 6,000 students and 900 staff members. It comprises four knowledge domains: Philosophy and Religious Studies, History and Art History, Media and Culture Studies, and Languages, Literature and Communication. With its research and education in these fields, the faculty aims to contribute to a better understanding of the Netherlands and Europe in a rapidly changing social and cultural context. The enthusiastic and committed colleagues and the excellent amenities in the historical city center of Utrecht, where the faculty is housed, contribute to an inspiring working environment.

The research is conducted within the Language Acquisition, Processing and Disorders (LAPD) group of the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS (UiL OTS). Other research groups at the UiL OTS focus on Language, Logic and Information, Language Variation, Language and Education, Language and Communication. The UiL OTS research staff comprises approximately 20 full professors, a dozen postdocs and roughly 40 PhD students.

The Department of Language, Literature and Communication offers BA and MA programmes in literary studies, linguistics, communication studies, translation, as well as Dutch, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and (uniquely in the Netherlands) Celtic languages.


  • PhD
  • Language and culture
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2434—€3111 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1174393



Domplein 29, 3512 JE, Utrecht

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