Dr Catherine Davies

Dr Catherine Davies


I joined the University of Leeds as a Teaching Fellow in 2011 and became a Lecturer a year later. I was promoted to Associate Professor in 2018.

Previously, I obtained my MPhil in 2006 then my PhD in 2011 (on how children come to produce and understand names for objects), both from the University of Cambridge. I then worked on a postdoctoral project on children’s grammatical development at the School of Psychology at the University of Kent.

I manage the Leeds Child Development Unit, our lab facility for studying language acquisition.

I am available for postgraduate research supervision. I consider quality applications in first language acquisition which take a constructivist approach, particularly concerning the development of reference and pragmatics, the nature of the language input, language and literacy in the eary years, or other topics relating to my research interests below. 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.


  • Director of Research, School of Languages, Cultures, and Societies

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.

My projects investigate 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, or do they disregard them? How do they work out how much detail to provide in their referring expressions?

My current ESRC-funded project focuses on how children understand and process adjectives – a common but challenging category of words. I have also investigated children’s inferencing ability and whether it can be improved by increased exposure to inferential talk during shared bookreading. I am currently working on several projects relating to the COVID-19 lockdown and associated effects on children’s development, and is increasingly working in research-to-practice collaborations, primarily with educational practitioners. I lead the Leeds Child Development Unit lead, am a member of the Communication and Language Task Group at Leeds City Council, and a consultant for the Royal Foundation’s Early Years Programme. I have methodological expertise in lab-based behavioural methods, eyetracking, corpus analyses, and randomised-controlled trials.

As part of the ESRC-funded project Promoting language development via shared reading, I worked with Danielle Matthews and Michelle McGillion (University of Sheffield) 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.

I completed the British Academy funded project Exploring psycholinguistic eye tracking methodologies and data analytic techniques, with Helene Kreysa (Friedrich-Schiller University of Jena, Germany). As part of this grant, we published two papers on the integration of visual and linguistic information during the production of referring expressions by adults and children.

My work in adult language processing includes a study investigating whether speaker-specific cues (i.e. speaker identity) influence semantic disambiguation. This work is with Vince PorrettaEkaterini Klepousniotou, and Kremena Koleva. Other collaborators include Courtenay Norbury (UCL), Clara Andrés Roqueta (Universitat Jaume I de Castellón), and Napoleon Katsos (University of Cambridge).

<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">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
<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="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>