Professor Vera Kempe

Professor of Psychology and Language Learning

School School of Social and Health Sciences

Department Division of Psychology

Contact info

+44 (0)1382 30 8586


BSc/Msc Psychology  Moscow State University, PhD  Humboldt University

Prof Kempe researches first and second language learning and processing. Her current research interests include evolution and function of child-directed speech, cross-linguistic comparisons of morphology acquisition, dialect processing and the interplay between emotion and communication. With Patricia J. Brooks, she has co-authored the textbook 'Language Development' and co-edited the 'Encyclopedia of Language Development'. She currently leads a Leverhulme Trust-funded 3-year project on literacy acquisition in situations of dialect exposure. 

In her current role as Leader of the Society Theme at Abertay she is involved in fostering inter-disciplinary links between Behavioural Science and Game Design.

If you are interested in postgraduate research in any of these and related areas, please get in touch.

Spring 2018

  • PSY302 Developmental Psychology (BSc) - with Janet McLean & Glenn Williams

  • PSY507 Developmental and Social Psychology (MSc) - with Lara Wood & Janet McLean

  • PSY310 Cultural Evolution of Behaviour - with Lara Wood

  • PSY405 Language Education and the Early Years - with Janet McLean



Currently funded projects: for more info and to participate in one of our studies go here.

Pilot-Testing CulTra: Crowd-Sourcing Research Games for the Study of Cultural Transmission (with Nikolay Panayotov, Sheila Cunningham, Monica Tamariz (HWU) and Nicolas Gauvrit (Paris 8) - funded by Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland

Literacy Acquisition in Situations of Dialect Exposure - funded by the Leverhulme Trust (with Glenn Williams and Nikolay Panayotov)

I am interested in first and second language learning in children and adults, particularly in how morphology is learned in different languages. I am particularly interested in how the input that learners receive, for example, the speech typically directed to children, affects the learning process. Some of my research has shown that using diminutives (words like doggie, bunny, kitty), which express smallness and positive affect, can - as a side effect - boost learning of grammatical gender or case in some languages (e.g. Kempe & Brooks, 2005). Related lines of research examine how learners' cognitive abilities interact with the language input (e.g. Brooks, Kempe & Sionov, 2006), and how learners deal with linguistic variation of the kind found in various dialects, especially in the realm of literacy acquisition. This research informs us about language learning in general but also has practical implications for omptimising language learning and teaching.

More recently, I became interested in trying to understand what mechanisms lead speakers to adjust their language for the benefit of the learner. One line of inquiry explores the role of emotions in this process. Because interactions with babies tend to elicit positive affect in their mothers, we wanted to see whether happy speakers are clearer speakers. Turns out this is not necessarily the case (e.g. Kempe, Rookes & Swarbrigg, 2013). My current research now explores further how affective states influence, and are influenced by, communication. My lab also investigates how spontaneous enhancement of language input by experts (e.g. parents) for novices (e.g. children) affects not just the language learning process but also the structure of language itself. Using iterated learning in the lab we explore how learning and teaching biases affect the cultural transmission of language.

Kirk, N. W.; Kempe, V.; Scott-Brown, K.; Philipp, A. & Declerck, M. (2018). Can monolinguals be like bilinguals? Evidence from dialect switching. Cognition, 170, 164-178.

Brooks, P. J.; Kwoka, N. & Kempe, V. (2016) Distributional effects and individual differences in L2-morphology learning. Language Learning, 67(1), 171-207.

Kempe, V.; Kirk, N. W. & Brooks, P. J. (2015) Revisiting theoretical and causal explanations for the bilingual advantage in executive functioning. Cortex, 73

Kempe, V., Bublitz, D. & Brooks, P. J. (2015). Musical ability and non-native speech sound processing are linked through sensitivity to pitch and spectral information. British Journal of Psychology, 106 (2), 349-366.

Kempe, V., Gauvrit, N., & Forsyth, D. (2015). Structure emerges faster during cultural transmission in children than in adults. Cognition, 136, 247-254.

Kirk, N. W., Fiala, L., Scott-Brown, K. C. & Kempe, V. (2014). No evidence for reduced Simon cost in elderly bilinguals and bidialectals. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 26(6), 640-648.

Kempe, V., Puts, D. A. & Cárdenas, R. (2013) More masculine men speak less clearly. Human Nature. 24, 461-475.

Kempe, V., Rookes, M. & Swarbrigg, L. (2012) Speaker emotion can affect ambiguity production. Language and Cognitive Processes. DOI:10.1080/01690965.2012.755555.

Bruening, P. R., Brooks, P. J., Alfieri, L., Kempe, V. & Dabašinskiene, I. (2012) Children’s tolerance of word form variation. Child Development Research. Article ID 401680.

Kempe, V., Thoresen, J., Kirk, N. W., Schaeffler, F. & Brooks P. J. (2012) Individual differences in the discrimination of novel speech sounds: Effects of sex, temporal processing, musical and cognitive abilities. PlosOne. 7(11), e48623.

Brooks, P. J., Kempe, V. (2012) Individual differences in adult foreign language learning: The mediating effect of meta-linguistic awareness. Memory & Cognition, 41, 281-296.

Brooks, P. J., Kempe, V. & Donachie, A. (2011). Second language learning benefits from similarities in word endings: Evidence from Russian. Language Learning, 61, 1142-1172.

Kempe, V. & Heffernan, E. (2011). Digit ratio is linked to affective empathy in women. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 430-433.

Kempe, V., Schaeffler, S. & Thoresen, J. C.  (2010). Prosodic disambiguation in child-directed speech. Journal of Memory and Language, 62, 204-225.

Kempe, V., Brooks, P. J. & Kharkhurin, A. (2010). Cognitive predictors of generalization of Russian grammatical gender categories. Language Learning, 60, 127-153.

Kempe, V. (2009). Child-directed speech prosody in adolescents: Relationship to 2D:4D, empathy, and attitudes towards children. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 610-615.

Kempe, V., Brooks, P.J. & Christman, S. (2009). Inconsistent handedness is linked to more successful foreign language vocabulary learning. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 16, 480-485.

Kempe, V., Seva, N., Brooks, P. J., Mironova, N., Pershukova, A. & Fedorova, O. (2009). Elicited production of case-marking in Russian and Serbian children: Are diminutive nouns easier to inflect. First Language, 29, 147-165.

Savickiene, I., Kempe, V. & Brooks, P. J. (2009). Acquisition of gender agreement in Lithuanian: Exploring the effect of diminutive usage in an elicited production task. Journal of Child Language, 36, 477-494.

Kempe, V. & Brooks, P. J. (2008). Second language learning of complex inflectional systems. Language Learning, 54 (4), 703-746.

Penton-Voak, I. S., Cahill, S., Pound, N., Kempe, V., Schaeffler, S. & Schaeffler, F. (2007). Male facial attractiveness, perceived personality, and child-directed speech. Evolution and Human Behavior. 28, 253-259.

Kempe, V., Brooks, P. J., Gillis, S. & Samson, G. (2007). Diminutives facilitate word segmentation in natural speech: Cross-linguistic evidence. Memory & Cognition, 35, 762-773.

Seva, N., Kempe, V., Brooks, P. J., Mironova, N., Pershukova, A. & Fedorova, O. (2007). Cross-linguistic evidence for the diminutive advantage: Gender agreement in Russian and Serbian children. Journal of Child Language, 34, 111-131.

Kempe, V., Brooks, P. J., Mironova, N., Pershukova, A. & Fedorova, O. (2007). Playing with word endings: Morphological variation in the learning of Russian noun inflections. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 25, 55-77.

Schaeffler, S., Kempe, V. (2007). Mothers are less efficient in employing prosodic disambiguation in child-directed speech than non-mothers: Is there a trade-off between affective and linguistic prosody? In: Proceedings of the 16th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, 2109-2112, Saarbrücken, Germany.

Brooks, P. J., Kempe, V. & Sionov, A. (2006). The role of learner and input variables in learning inflectional morphology. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27, 185-209.

Seva, N., Kempe, V. & Brooks, P. J. (2006) Inducing low-level schema extraction with artificial suffixes. Proceedings of the 28th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 2135-2140

Schaeffler, F., Kempe, V. & Biersack, S. (2006) Comparing vocal parameters in spontaneous and posed child-directed speech. Proceedings of the 3rd ICSA International Conference on Speech Prosody, Dresden, Germany.

Sekerina, I. A., Brooks, P. J. & Kempe, V. (2006) Gender transparency facilitates noun selection in Russian. The Proceedings of the 14th Workshop on Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics. The Princeton Meeting. Michigan Slavic Publications

Biersack, S. & Kempe, V. (2005). Exploring the influence of vocal emotion expression on communicative effectiveness. Phonetica. Special Issue: Progress in Experimental Phonology, 62, 106-119.

Kempe, V., Brooks, P. J. & Gillis, S. (2005). Diminutives in child-directed speech supplement metric with distributional word segmentation cues. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 12, 145-151.

Kempe, V. & Brooks, P. J. (2005). The role of diminutives in the acquisition of Russian gender: Can elements of child-directed speech aid in learning morphology? Language Learning, 55, Supplement: The Best of Language Learning, 139-176.

Rüschemeyer, S.-A., Fiebach, C. J., Kempe, V. & Friederici, A. (2005). Processing lexical semantic and syntactic information in first and second language: fMRI evidence from German and Russian. Human Brain Mapping, 25, 266-286.

Biersack, S. & Kempe, V. (2005). Tracing vocal emotion expression through the speech chain: Do listeners perceive what speakers feel? Proceedings of the ISCA Workshop on Plasticity in Speech Perception, 211-214.

Biersack, S., Kempe, V. & Knapton, L. (2005) Fine-tuning speech registers: A comparison of the prosodic features of child-directed and foreigner-directed speech. Proceedings of Interspeech 2005, 2401-2404.

Kempe, V., Brooks, P., Mironova, N. & Fedorova, O. (2003). Diminutivisation supports gender acquisition in Russian children. Journal of Child Language. 30, 471-485.

Kempe V. & Brooks, P. J. (2001). The role of diminutives in Russian gender learning: Can child-directed speech facilitate the acquisition of inflectional morphology? Language Learning. 51, 221-256.

Kempe, V. & MacWhinney, B. (1999). Processing of morphological and semantic cues in Russian and German. Language and Cognitive Processes, 14, 129-171.

Kempe V., Brooks, P. J. & Pirott, L. (2001) How can child-directed speech facilitate the acquisition of morphology? Proceedings of the VIIIth International Congress for the Study of Child Language. San Sebastián, Spain, 1237-1247.

Kempe, V., Levy, R. & Graci, C. (2001) Neural networks as fitness evaluators in genetic algorithms: Simulating human creativity, Proceedings of the 23rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 1221.

Shore, W. & Kempe, V. (1999). The role of sentence context in accessing partial knowledge of word meaning. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28, 145-163.

Taraban, R. & Kempe, V. (1999). Gender processing in native and non-native Russian speakers. Applied Psycholinguistics, 20, 119-148.

Kempe, V. & MacWhinney, B. (1998). The acquisition of case marking by adult learners of Russian and German.  Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 20, 543-588.

Kempe, V. (1998). Extracting language from sound. Review of P. W. Jusczyk (1997). The discovery of spoken language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Contemporary Psychology. 43, 683-684.

Kempe, V. & Brooks, P. J. (1998). Do diminutives facilitate the learning of Russian gender? Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. 1231.

Kempe, V. & MacWhinney, B. (1996). The crosslinguistic assessment of foreign language vocabulary learning. Applied Psycholinguistics, 17, 149 – 183.

Taraban, R. & Kempe, V. (1996). Processing effects for Russian gender. Proceedings of the Eighteenth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society.  853.

Kempe, V. (1991). Ausgewählte Aspekte der Interaktion von semantischer und syntaktischer Analyse im Sprachverstehen. Zeitschrift für Psychologie Supplement, 11, 199-206.

Akhutina, T. V., Velichkovsky, B. M., & Kempe, V. (1988). Semantics, syntax, and orientation on word order in language acquisition. In Semantics in Speech. Moscow: Nauka (in Russian).

Velichkovsky, B. M., Akhutina, T. V., Kempe, V. (1987). Orientation on word order in German and Russian children. (in Russian) Vestnik MGU, 1.

Books and Book Chapters

Brooks, P. J. & Kempe, V. (Eds.) (2014) Encyclopedia of Language Development. Sage.

Brooks, P. J. & Kempe, V. (2012) Language Development, London: Wiley Blackwell.

Kempe, V., Brooks, P. J. & Gillis, S. (2007) Diminutives provide multiple benefits for language acquisition. In Dressler, W. & Savickiene, I. (eds.) The acquisition of diminutives. John Benjamins: Amsterdam.

Schriefers, H. & Kempe, V. (1993). Morphosyntactic processes in the production of noun-phrases in Russian - In Friederici A.D. (ed.) Arbeitsbereich für Kognitionswissenschaften der Freien Universität Berlin, Annual Report.

Radach, R., & Kempe, V. (1993). An individual analysis of initial fixation positions in reading. - In d'Ydevalle, G., van Rensbergen, J. (eds.) Perception and Cognition - Advances in Eye-Movement Research, Elsevier: North-Holland

More Information


2016    Kempe, V. (P.I.) Leverhulme Grant # RPG-2016-093 Literacy acquisition in situations of dialect exposure (£151,059)

2015    Kempe, V. (P.I.), McLean, J. & Scott-Brown, K. (Co-P.I.s) App-lying Science to Learning? Pupil involvement in efficacy testing of technology-based educational interventions in a Primary School setting. Royal Society Partnership Grant with Mill O’Forest School in Stonehaven (£2,700)

2012     Kempe, V. (P.I.), Scott-Brown, K. (Co-P.I.) Leverhulme Grant # RPG-375 When do dialects become languages? Let the human cognitive system decide. (£67,897)

2010     Kempe, V. (P.I.), Thoresen, J. (Co-P.I.) Individual differences in non-native phoneme perception. Research Grant awarded by the Journal Language Learning. (£6,000)

2008     Kempe, V. (P.I.) Refining the analysis of acoustic indicators for the vocal expression of positive emotion. British Academy Small Grant (£7,484)

2006     Kempe, V.  (P.I.) Prosodic disambiguation in child-directed speech. Nuffield Undergraduate Research Bursary. (£1,440)

2003     Kempe, V. (P.I.) Can diminutives in child-directed speech facilitate both word segmentation and grammar learning? British Academy Small Grant (£4,600)

2001      Kempe, V. (P.I.), Mironova, N. (Co-P.I.), Brooks, P. (Co-P.I.) Does diminutive wordplay affect the timing of morphosyntactic development? NATO Collaborative Linkage Grant (£6,000)

2001     Kempe, V. (P.I.), Brooks, P. (Co-P.I.) Can diminutives aid word segmentation? Research Grant awarded by the Journal Language Learning. (£7,000)

1999     Brooks, P. (P.I.), Kempe, V. (Co-P.I.), Fedorova, O. (Co-P.I.) The role of diminutives in the acquisition of Russian noun morphology. NATO Collaborative Linkage Grant ($6,000)

1999     Kempe, V. (P.I.), Brooks, Co.-P.I.) The role of diminutives in Russian gender and case learning: Can child-directed speech facilitate the acquisition of inflectional morphology? Spencer Foundation, USA ($35,000) 


Member of the Advisory Board of the Scottish Graduate School of Social Sciences.

Member of the Advisory Board of Studies in Second Language Learning.

Member of the Supervisory Board of the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Sciences.


App-lying Science to Learning - sponsored by the Royal Society

Why study Psychology? Workshop with Primary 6 and 7 from Blackness PS, Victoria Park PS and St. Joseph's RC PS at Dundee City Council Career Festival, 3. June 2015

Can we train the brain? Talk at Dundee Women in Science Festival, 18. March 2015.

Why do we often believe things that are not true? – Arduthie Primary School Science week (Primary 4, 5, 6). Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, March 2013.

Learning Languages – Is it ever too late? Inaugural Lecture. 17. April 2013.

Does it matter how we speak to our children? Talk at Café Science, Dundee, 29. April 2013.

Mummy, speak English to me! How to maintain minority languages? - Talk presented at the conference ‘Specifics and Problems of Teaching Russian in Scotland’. 5. October 2013.

Are children the better language learners? - Talk presented at the Association of Dundee University Women. 17. October 2013.

Why does our brain see things that are not there? – Arduthie Primary School Science week (Primary 4, 5, 6). Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, March 2012.

How to promote literacy acquisition in preschoolers? – staff workshop at Croft Nursery, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, 22. October 2010.

Meet the rest of the team

Dr Lara Wood

Dr Lara Wood

Division of Psychology | Lecturer

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Dr Clare Cunningham

Dr Clare Cunningham

Division of Psychology | Head of Division

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