Vera Kempe


Calculated based on number of publications stored in Pure and citations from Scopus
1996 …2024

Research activity per year

Personal profile

Personal profile

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 

Research interests

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.


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.


Applying 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.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality


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