Portrait of Dr Vikki Janke

Dr Vikki Janke

Head of Department of English Language and Linguistics
School Director of Graduate Studies (Taught)
Senior Lecturer in Linguistics


Vikki received her PhD from the Department of Phonetics and Linguistics at University College London, where she developed a PRO-free syntactic representation of control, focusing on English and Icelandic. Since then she has held research and teaching posts at the Institute of Education, the Department of Human Communication Science at UCL and at Middlesex University.

Vikki researches into and has published on syntax, first language acquisition in typical development, syntactic and pragmatic development in individuals on the autism spectrum and second language acquisition in both spoken and signed languages. Her research on language in autism has been sponsored by the British Academy and she is currently contributing to a three-year Leverhulme research grant entitled ‘Breaking into Sign Language: the role of input and individual differences’, in collaboration with Chloe Marshall at the UCL Institute of Education and Marianne Gullberg at the University of Lund. 

At Kent, Vikki is working with Gloria Chamorro on the impact of early bilingual education on children’s social and cognitive development and her work with Marina Kolokonte, at the American College of Greece, focuses on the integration of syntactic and discourse information in Greek L1/English L2 speakers.  

Vikki's administrative roles include being the Director of the MA in Linguistics in the Department of English Language & Linguistics, and the Director of Graduate Studies (Taught) for the School. She is also the Reviews Editor for First Language and external examiner for the MA in Linguistics at UCL and for the BA in English Language & Linguistics and the MA in Intercultural Communication at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.


Vikki teaches undergraduate and postgraduate courses on language acquisition in typical development, language acquisition in less usual circumstances (e.g. autism spectrum conditions, Deaf populations, bilingualism), psycholinguistics and syntax.


Vikki has previously supervised postgraduate research on syntax, first language acquisition and language development in individuals with autism spectrum conditions. 

If you are interested in undertaking a PhD under Vikki's supervision, she would welcome applications relating to first or second language acquisition, particularly on topics relating to syntax, pragmatics, autism spectrum conditions or bilingualism.



  • Janke, V. (2018). Who is the agent? The influence of pragmatic leads on children’s reference assignment in non-obligatory control. Journal of Child Language [Online] 45:442-478. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0305000917000320.
    Non-obligatory control constructions (NOC) are sentences which contain a non-finite clause with a null subject whose reference is determined pragmatically. Little is known about how children assign reference to these subjects yet this is important as our current understanding of reference-resolution development is limited to less complex sentences with overt elements, such as pronouns. This study explores how 76 children (aged 6 to 11) consult pragmatic leads when assigning reference in two examples of NOC. Children undertook three picture-selection tasks, containing no lead, a weak lead and a strong lead, and their reference choices in the critical sentences were monitored. The novel results pinpoint children’s baseline interpretations of the ambiguous sentences and expose an age trend in the degree to which they consult strong pragmatic leads when resolving reference. These trends illustrate how reference assignment in more complex discourse-governed contexts progresses, thereby contributing an important dimension to the pragmatics acquisition literature.
  • Janke, V. (2018). Discourse effects on older children’s interpretations of complement control and temporal adjunct control. Language Acquisition [Online] 25:366-391. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10489223.2017.1359271.
    The reference of understood subjects (ecs) in complement control (John persuaded Peteri eci to read the book) and temporal adjunct control (Johni tapped Peter while eci reading the book) has long been described as restricted to the object and subject of the main clause respectively. These restrictions have shaped the grammatical targets proposed for children, most of whom are reported as having acquired both sub-types by seven. Using three picture-selection tasks, 76 children’s (34 girls; aged 6;9-11;8) interpretations of the ecs were tested. Task 1 established their base-line preferences. Task 2 weakly cued the ecs towards an alternative referent and Task 3 strongly towards an alternative referent. Complement control responses were consistent across all tasks but in adjunct control they shifted significantly towards the object in Task 3 – a pattern mirrored by 15 adults. Responses in adjunct control also exhibited a degree of fluctuation in the baseline condition that complement control did not. A follow-up study on adjunct control showed that neither children nor adults permitted an external-referent reading, even when strongly cued in that direction. Two alternative proposals are discussed: one in which the results are viewed solely as the product of a parser’s sensitivity to activation and another that proposes two possible structures for adjunct control; this permits the evident interpretation shift yet gives precedence to the highly preferred subject-oriented reading.
  • Janke, V. and Marshall, C. (2017). Using the hands to represent objects in space: Gesture as a substrate for signed language acquisition. Frontiers in Psychology [Online] 8. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02007.
    An ongoing issue of interest in second language research concerns what transfers from a speaker’s first language to their second. For learners of a sign language, gesture is a potential substrate for transfer. Our study provides a novel test of gestural production by eliciting silent gesture from novices in a controlled environment. We focus on spatial relationships, which in sign languages are represented in a very iconic way using the hands, and which one might therefore predict to be easy for adult learners to acquire. However, a previous study by Marshall and Morgan (2015) revealed that this was only partly the case: in a task that required them to express the relative locations of objects, hearing adult learners of British Sign Language (BSL) could represent objects’ locations and orientations correctly, but had difficulty selecting the correct handshapes to represent the objects themselves. If hearing adults are indeed drawing upon their gestural resources when learning sign languages, then their difficulties may have stemmed from their having in manual gesture only a limited repertoire of handshapes to draw upon, or, alternatively, from having too broad a repertoire. If the first hypothesis is correct, the challenge for learners is to extend their handshape repertoire, but if the second is correct, the challenge is instead to narrow down to the handshapes appropriate for that particular sign language. 30 sign-naïve hearing adults were tested on Marshall and Morgan’s task. All used some handshapes that were different from those used by native BSL signers and learners, and the set of handshapes used by the group as a whole was larger than that employed by native signers and learners. Our findings suggest that a key challenge then when learning to express locative relations might be reducing from a very large set of gestural resources, rather than supplementing a restricted one, in order to converge on the conventionalised classifier system that forms part of the grammar of the language being learned.
  • Janke, V. and Bailey, L. (2017). Effects of Discourse on Control. Journal of Linguistics [Online] 53:533-565. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0022226716000281.
    This study examined discourse effects on obligatory and non-obligatory control interpretations. 70 participants undertook three online forced-choice surveys, which monitored preferred interpretations in complement control, verbal-gerund-subject control, long-distance control and final temporal adjunct control. Survey 1 ascertained their baseline interpretations of the empty category in these constructions. Survey 2 cued the critical sentences used in survey 1 with a weakly established topic of discourse and survey 3 cued them with a strongly established one. Reference assignment in complement control remained consistent across all three conditions, illustrating that pragmatics does not infiltrate this structurally regulated and syntactically unambiguous construction. Changes in interpretation were found in the remaining three constructions. An accessibility-motivated scale of influence, combining three independent discourse factors (topic, linear distance and competition) is created to model reference determination in verbal-gerund-subject control and long-distance control. The results for temporal adjunct control are novel. They revealed a much stronger susceptibility to pragmatic interference than that reported in the literature yet the construction behaved differently from non-obligatory control under discourse pressure. We propose a structural account for final temporal adjunct control, which permits the evident interpretation shift, whilst still excluding arbitrary and sentence-external interpretations.
  • Janke, V. and Perovic, A. (2017). Contrasting complement control, temporal adjunct control and controlled verbal gerund subjects in autism spectrum disorder: The role of contextual cues in reference assignment. Frontiers in Psychology [Online] 8:448. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00448.
    This study examines two complex syntactic dependencies (complement control and sentence-final temporal adjunct control) and one pragmatic dependency (controlled verbal gerund subjects) in children with ASD. Sixteen high-functioning (HFA) children (aged 6 to 16) with a diagnosis of autism and no language impairment, matched on age, gender and non-verbal MA to one TD control group, and on age, gender and verbal MA to another TD control group, undertook three picture-selection tasks. Task 1 measured their base-line interpretations of the empty categories (ec). Task 2 preceded these sentence sets with a weakly established topic cueing an alternative referent and Task 3 with a strongly established topic cueing an alternative referent. In complement control (Ron persuaded Hermione ec to kick the ball) and sentence-final temporal adjunct control (Harry tapped Luna while ec feeding the owl), the reference of the ec is argued to be related obligatorily to the object and subject respectively. In controlled verbal-gerund subjects (ec Rowing the boat clumsily made Luna seasick), the ec’s reference is resolved pragmatically. Referent choices across the three tasks were compared. TD children chose the object uniformly in complement control across all tasks but in adjunct control, preferences shifted towards the object in Task 3. In controlled verbal-gerund subjects, they exhibited a strong preference for an internal-referent interpretation in Task 1, which shifted in the direction of the cues in Tasks 2 and 3. HFA children gave a mixed performance. They patterned with their TD counterparts on complement control and controlled verbal-gerund subjects but performed marginally differently on adjunct control: no TD groups were influenced by the weakly established topic in Task 2 but all groups were influenced by the strongly established topic in Task 3. HFA children were less influenced than the TD children, resulting in them making fewer object choices overall but revealing parallel patterns of performance. In this first study of three sub-types of control in ASD, we demonstrate that HFA children consult the same pragmatic cues to the same degree as TD children, in spite of the diverse pragmatic deficits reported for this population.
  • Janke, V. (2016). Who did what to whom?. Babel: The Language Magazine [Online] 15:16-20. Available at: https://cloud.3dissue.com/18743/41457/106040/issue15new/index.html.
    A project sponsored by the British Academy at the University of Kent demonstrates key areas of language at which individuals with autism spectrum disorder excel. Dr Vikki Janke explains aspects of grammatical and contextual skills that are right on target and why this is good news.
  • Janke, V. and Kolokonte, M. (2015). False Cognates: The Effect of Mismatch in Morphological Complexity on a Backward Lexical Translation Task. Second Language Research [Online] 31:137-156. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0267658314545836.
    In this article we focus on ‘false cognates’, lexical items that have overlapping orthographic/phonological properties but little or no semantic overlap. False-cognate pairs were created from French (second language or L2) and English (first language or L1) items by manipulating the levels of morphological correspondence between them. Our aim was to test whether mismatches in morphological structure affected success on a low-frequency backward lexical translation task. Fifty-eight participants, divided into four groups (A-level; degree level; adult learners; bilinguals) were tested on monomorphemic items (simplex), polymorphemic items (complex), items whose morphological structure in French exceeded that of their English counterpart (mismatch), and control items. Translation success rate followed a uniform pattern: control > mismatch > simplex > complex. With respect to the false-friend effect, participant responses were also uniform: complex > simplex > mismatch. It is argued that an independent level of morphology explains these results.
  • Janke, V. and Perovic, A. (2015). Intact Grammar in HFA? Evidence from Control and Binding. Lingua [Online] 164:68-86. Available at: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2015.06.009.
    This study contributes original results to the topical issue of the degree to which grammar is intact in high-functioning children with autism (HFA). We examine the comprehension of binding and obligatory control in 26 HFA children, mean age=12;02, compared with two groups of younger typically developing (TD) children: one matched on non-verbal mental age (MA), mean age=9;09, and the other on verbal MA, mean age=8;09. On the binding task, our HFA group showed a good performance on reflexives on a par with TD matched children, in line with recent reports of intact knowledge of reflexive binding in higher but not lower-functioning children with autism. Their comprehension of personal pronouns was somewhat poorer, with no difference observed between the groups, again supporting the existing literature. Results on the control task, which probed mastery of syntactic relations never previously examined in autism, revealed that both HFA children and the two matched TD groups were at ceiling on single-complement subject control (try) and object control (persuade). However, a considerably poorer attainment on double-complement subject control (promise) was present equally in the HFA group and the verbal MA-matched TD group but not in the non-verbal MA-matched group. Performance on promise correlated with age only in the verbal MA-matched group, whilst in HFA it correlated with general cognitive and language abilities. These novel findings demonstrate that regular obligatory control and reflexive binding are preserved in HFA. We contrast these results with previous literature that has demonstrated deficiencies with passives and raising in HFA populations. The emerging bifurcation suggests different analyses for the principles underlying these constructions: whereas the latter incorporate movement, control and binding do not. The poor performance on promise supports all previous literature on this lexically and syntactically idiosyncratic construction. Its breaking of locality, which in turn results in a conflict between lexical and syntactic requirements, is exceptional and introduces an extra step of learning. This step appears to be related to maturation in TD children, and to stronger language and cognitive skills in HFA children.
  • Janke, V. and Kolokonte, M. (2015). The False-Friend Effect in Three Profoundly Deaf Learners of French: Disentangling Morphology, Phonology and Orthography. Second Language Research [Online] 31:551-562. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0267658315576951.
    Three profoundly deaf individuals undertook a low-frequency backward lexical translation task (French/English), where morphological structure was manipulated and orthographic distance between test items was measured. Conditions included monomorphemic items (simplex), polymorphemic items (complex), items whose French morphological structure exceeded their English counterpart (mismatch), and a control. Order of translation success was uniform: control > mismatch > simplex > complex, as was order for false-cognate errors: complex > simplex > mismatch, patterning precisely with hearing participants (Janke and Kolokonte, 2014). We discuss how these results highlight a route for future studies to disentangle phonology and orthography further from morphology in first-language interference.
  • Perovic, A. and Janke, V. (2013). Issues in the Acquisition of Binding and Control in High-Functioning Children with Autism. UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 25:131-143.
    In this study, we test 12 high-functioning children with autism (HFA), aged 12-16, on a picture-selection task assessing comprehension of binding and compare their performance on this construction with that on an already conducted, similarly designed task, testing comprehension of obligatory control (Janke & Perovic, submitted). We compare the children’s performance on these two tasks to that of a younger gender- and verbal MA-matched typically developing (TD) group. No difference between the groups’ performance was found, with both performing at ceiling on the two tasks. By comparing comprehension of two constructions which share a number of syntactic properties, these results provide further corroboration for the claim in Janke and Perovic (submitted) and Perovic, Modyanova and Wexler (2013a) that certain syntactic dependencies in high-functioning individuals with autism are intact. This contribution is of clinical import, as it provides practitioners with a more precise profile of advanced grammatical abilities. The paper’s theoretical significance lies with its division between binding and control on the one hand and raising on the other. While binding and obligatory control pattern together in our sample, research using the same paradigm on a different sample of children, also high-functioning and with an age range of 10-16, show an impaired comprehension of raised structures relative to unraised structures and fillers (Perovic, Modyanova & Wexler, 2007). We hypothesise that the source of this difference lies with the extra degree of complexity in raising that is absent from binding and control: raising involves argument displacement.
  • Janke, V. and Neeleman, A. (2012). Ascending and Descending VPs in English. Linguistic Inquiry [Online] 43:151-190. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/LING_a_00082.
    We argue that English allows both rightward-descending VP shell structures and more traditional rightward-ascending VPs. The choice between these depends on case theory and economy. Case theory triggers VP shell formation whenever the verb is merged with a DP object after it has been merged with some other category. The reason is that VP shell formation allows verb and object to surface in adjacent positions, a prerequisite for case licensing in English. Economy has the effect that in all other circumstances, VP shell formation is blocked. Our argument is based on a range of intricate data, many of which involve the distribution of object-oriented floating quantifiers. We end with a discussion of the binding data that are often taken to support a uniformly descending structure—incorrectly, in our view.
  • Janke, V. (2008). Control without a Subject. Lingua [Online] 118:82-118. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lingua.2007.05.002.
    The aim of this paper is to develop a representation of control that does not require a PRO-subject. I first analyse obligatory control using a de-compositional analysis of ?-roles, according to which ?-roles are divided into two selectional requirements. The resulting theory makes the same predictions as one based on PRO, yet avoids dependence on this ill-defined empty category. I then concentrate on Icelandic, tackling agreement phenomena in infinitival clauses. Again no PRO is necessary to cater for the data, which receive a uniform account using the mechanism outlined in the first half of the paper.
  • Janke, V. and Neeleman, A. (2005). Floating Quantifiers and English VP-Structure. Ms., University College London:1-32.
    In this paper we argue that English allows both traditional left-branching VPs and right-branching VP-shell structures (as first proposed in Larson 1988a, 1990). The choice between these depends on case theory and economy. Case theory triggers VP-shell formation whenever the verb is merged with a DP-object after it has been merged with some other category. The reason is that VP-shell formation allows verb and object to surface in adjacent positions, which is a prerequisite for case checking in English. Economy has the effect that in all other circumstances, VP-shell formation is blocked. We show that this proposal correctly regulates word order in transitive and ditransitive VPs, as well as in VPs that contain a particle. However, the main independent evidence we present comes from object-oriented floating quantifiers, whose distribution is limited to VP-shell structures. In developing this argument, we will propose an analysis of
    floating quantifiers as anaphoric adverbials. We will also compare this analysis with alternatives according to which floating quantifiers are stranded by movement.
  • Janke, V. (2005). A Syntactic Representation of Control without a Subject. [Online] 17:131-172. Available at: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/pals/research/linguistics/research/uclwpl/uclwpl17.
    The aim of this paper is to develop a representation of control that does not require a
    PRO-subject. I first analyse obligatory control using a de-compositional analysis of theta-roles,
    according to which theta-roles are divided into two selectional requirements. The
    resulting theory makes the same predictions as one based on PRO, yet avoids
    dependence on this ill-defined empty category. I then concentrate on Icelandic,
    tackling agreement phenomena in infinitival clauses. Again no PRO is necessary to
    answer for the data, which receive a uniform account using the mechanism outlined in
    the first half of the paper.

Book section

  • Janke, V. (2016). Pragmatic Leads and Null Subjects: When Children Consult Leads and When They Do Not. In: Scott, J. and Waughtal, D. eds. Boston University Conference on Language Development Proceedings. United States: Cascadilla Press, pp. 184-204.
    This study was a preliminary investigation into children’s attention to pragmatic leads when assigning reference to null subjects in three different sub-types of control. The sentences included were object control (Ron persuaded Hermione ec to kick the ball), controlled verbal gerund subjects (ec Pouring the water quickly made Harry wet) and temporal adjunct control (Harry tapped Luna while ec feeding the owl). 76 British children, aged 6;9 to 11;8, divided into five year groups, undertook three picture-selection tasks. Constructions were presented with no pragmatic lead, with a weak pragmatic lead cueing a particular referent and with a strong pragmatic lead cueing a particular referent. Children across all year groups ignored both leads when assigning reference to the null subject in object control, consulted both strengths of lead when doing so for verbal gerund subjects and utilised the strong lead when making an interpretative choice in temporal adjunct control. Thus they demonstrated a selective use of the discourse when interpreting these three different sub-types of control. The results for temporal adjunct control are surprising and the implications they have for its classification are discussed. The data on verbal gerund subjects provide a first step towards an understanding of older children’s development of this far less studied example of control. In addition, the way in which children attended to the discourse for this construction brings data to bear on the unresolved theoretical debate over the correct characterisation of the ec in non-obligatory control.
  • Janke, V. and Perovic, A. (2016). Advanced Syntax and Primary Pragmatics in Children with ASD. In: Naigles, L. ed. Innovative Investigations of Language in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association/De Gruyter Mouton. Available at: https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4316173.aspx?tab=2.
  • Janke, V. (2013). The Distribution of Non-Obligatory Control and its + Human Interpretation. In: Kolokonte, M. and Janke, V. eds. Interfaces in Language 3. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 121-157.

Datasets / databases

  • Janke, V. and Marshall, C. (2017). Appendix to Janke and Marshall 2017. [Paper]. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02007.
    Supplementary Material for Janke and Marshall 2017. Handshapes used by sign-naive gesturers.

Edited book

  • Kolokonte, M. and Janke, V. (2013). Interfaces in Language 3. Kolokonte, M. and Janke, V. eds. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.


  • D’Elia, S. (2016). The Spray/Load and Dative Alternations: Aligning VP Structure and Contextual Effects.
    The theoretical and experimental work presented in this thesis investigates the spray/load and dative alternations. The purpose is to provide a comprehensive analysis of the alternations in terms of their syntactic structures and to account for how contextual information drives differences in the linear order of their VP arguments. This analysis shows that the syntactic structures of the spray/load and dative alternations are identical; each variant in an alternation is characterised by one of two available structures proposed in Janke and Neeleman (2012). Each structure is shown to respect a novel thematic hierarchy that is based on the value of binary feature clusters (Reinhart, 2000) rather than by direct reference to semantic labels. The choice of a particular structure is demonstrated to be affected by the non-semantic context in which the spray/load or dative sentence is generated. This is a consequence of the limited processing capacity of Working Memory and the allocation of attentional resources to a stimulus. Experimental data from an as yet untested variable of the visual context – the egocentric perception of distance – is found to interact with word order preferences of the alternations. I conclude that non-semantic contextual information interacts with the encoding of an event which ultimately has consequences for syntactic choices.
  • Mulhall, D. (2015). Acquisition of Advanced Syntax and Primary Pragmatics: An Investigation into children’s Referent Choice in Obligatory and Long-Distance Control.
    The focus of this thesis was on the acquisition of control in typically developing children and the strategies they might employ for referent assignment in control constructions. The goals were to empirically establish the syntactic nature of obligatory control whilst in contrast investigate the development path children take in their acquisition of a pragmatically governed non-obligatory control construct.
    Sixty children participated in three picture-selection tasks that tested obligatory object control and non-obligatory long-distance control. The first task established the children’s base-line interpretations, whilst pragmatic topic primes were introduced in the next two tasks to confirm which referent the children preferred and establish which they would permit.
    The results of this study confirmed the syntactic nature of obligatory control in a comparison of the children’s results with adult controls as well as by an evaluation of the errors made by some of children in the trials. Further, results showed that children’s development of non-obligatory, long-distance control develops slowly, in stages, as they mature. Like adults, children initially showed a preference for the object as a control referent, despite the potential topic-hood held by the subject of the sentence. As pragmatic discourse was added, however, the children’s developing grammar differed from the adult grammar, and it was shown that the linear locality of the object seemed to hold a precedent for the children that it did not for the adults when presented with strong pragmatic primes as preceding discourse; the children were more resistant than the adults to switching from the object to the subject as the coreferent. Furthermore, the choice of verb had an impact on the referent chosen by the children, with evidence that despite the pragmatic control assumed of non-obligatory control, syntactic properties such as c-command may have an effect on the children’s choice of referent in long distance control. It will be shown, however, that this effect can be broken with the addition of a strong prime, un-like the more persistent impact of linear locality on their interpretations.
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