Professor Catherine Davies

Professor Catherine Davies


I received my PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2011, focusing on how children learn to produce and understand names for objects. After a postdoc at the University of Kent, I joined the University of Leeds and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2018. I became Professor of Language Development in 2022.

I lead the Leeds Child Development Unit, our child-friendly lab for studying language development.

I am available for postgraduate research supervision. I consider high quality applications in first language development, particularly concerning the development of reference and pragmatics, effects of language input, language and literacy in the early years, or early years education.

I would also like to supervise and collaborate on topics in research culture, e.g. open research; responsible metrics; or equality, diversity, and inclusion  in research.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss project ideas in more detail. Please note that I cannot supervise projects in L2 pragmatics.


  • Dean for Research Culture

Research interests

My research interests are in first language development, pragmatics, and psycholinguistics. I use experimental data to investigate pragmatic development, i.e. how children understand and produce meaning beyond vocabulary and grammar.

I am currently focusing on the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns on child development:

I work with a range of government and practitioner stakeholder groups (e.g. the Department for Education, the Welsh Government, Leeds City Council) in applying research findings to practice and policy. My research-to-practice collaborations are primarily with educational  and clinical practitioners. 

I have methodological expertise in lab-based behavioural methods, eye tracking, corpus analyses, randomised controlled trials, and longitudinal studies.

My most recently completed ESRC-funded project (2018–2022) focuses on how young children understand and produce adjectives – a common but challenging area of vocabulary development.

As part of the ESRC-funded project Promoting language development via shared reading (2015–2018), I worked on a randomised controlled trial to promote caregiver-child inference-based dialogue during shared book reading and to establish whether an increase in this type of talk can boost children’s inferencing ability.

Another strand of my research investigates how children make choices about how to refer to objects, for example, do they say the spotty dog, the dog, or he to introduce a character in a story? Why does this differ from what adults do? Do they first look at all objects in a scene before describing a specific object? How do they work out how much detail to give?

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD: Overinformativeness in Referential Communication
  • MPhil English and Applied Linguistics
  • BA (Hons) Linguistics and Phonetics

Professional memberships

  • Experimental Psychology Society
  • International Association for the Study of Child Language (IASCL)

Research groups and institutes

  • Linguistics and Phonetics
  • Language acquisition
  • Language processing
  • Language at Leeds
  • Leeds Child Development Unit
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>