Prof. Dr. Ewa Dabrowska


My research is focused around three main themes:

1. Formulaic language

I am interested in the role that lexically specific units (fixed phrases and frames with slots that can be filled with novel lexical material) play in first language acquisition as well as adult production and comprehension. In a series of studies based on various child corpora, I show that children’s grammatical knowledge is best captured by means of such units, that the units can be derived from the input that children are exposed to, and that children become syntactically productive as they generalize over lexically specific units which share both formal and semantic characteristics. In another project (funded by the AHRC), which combined corpus and experimental methods, I argue that this also applies to complex syntactic constructions such as questions with long distance dependencies. This is important because most syntacticians believe that such constructions require complex syntactic machinery built on linguistically specific innate representations.

In more recent work, I have argued that adult informal conversational speech is also based on lexically specific units and the psychological reality, or otherwise, of corpus-based measures of collocation strength. My current research in this area explores collocations as an area of particular difficulty for second language learners and the role of collocational information in acquiring word meaning.

2. The nature of linguistic generalizations

A number of studies, including some of my own, have argued that syntactic productivity relies on stitching together stored chunks. I have also shown that learners don’t necessarily represent generalizations that are demonstrably present in their language. This tension between linguists’ descriptions (driven by principles of economy) and what speakers know about the grammar of their language (formulas and low-scope patterns) raises some interesting questions: How do speakers manage to behave as if they have extracted a generalization when in fact they haven’t? Even more puzzlingly, how did the patterns come into being, how do they survive, and what is their ontological status? This, and the research on individual differences described below, has led me to the realization that languages belong to communities, not individuals: that is to say, individual speakers “own” only parts of their language and a new interest in the social and cultural processes that shape language, and how they interact with cognitive processes – something which I would like to pursue in future research.

3. Individual differences in linguistic knowledge

Most linguists assume, either implicitly or explicitly, that all native speakers of a language converge on (more or less) the same grammar. In a series of studies I demonstrated that is not the case: there are, in fact, considerable individual differences in speakers’ knowledge of various areas of grammar, including quantifiers, passives, subordination, and some aspects of inflectional morphology. Many, though not all, of these differences are education-related. Those that are all show a characteristic pattern: highly educated speakers perform at or near ceiling, while less educated speakers show vast individual differences, with performance ranging from ceiling to chance (and sometimes below chance).

While most of my early work was devoted to demonstrating the reality of individual differences, in more recent projects I focus on exploring their causes. I have also expanded my interests to comparing native speakers and adult L2 learners, and examining differences in grammatical knowledge in the context of speakers’ knowledge of vocabulary and collocational patterns.

Individual differences in language acquisition and attainment

This is a five-year project funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation which investigates individual differences in first language (L1) and second/foreign language (L2) acquisition and attainment. In particular, we examine relationships between individual strengths and weaknesses in specific areas of linguistic and non-linguistic cognition, with a view to developing and testing hypotheses about which aspects of language depend on which aspects of cognition.

Our research includes three main strands:

A. Explicit and implicit language aptitude

This strand examines the following research questions:

  • How do we measure explicit and implicit language aptitude?
  • How does explicit and implicit language attitude influence speed and accuracy of language processing (in both L1 and L2)?
  • What is the relationship between these two types of aptitude?
  • To what extent do adult second language learners rely on the same mental mechanisms as children acquiring their first language?
B. Fluency

This strand examines fluency in the broadest sense: not just phonological fluency (the ability to produce rapid speech with relatively few pauses and self-corrections) but also cognitive fluency (the ability to retrieve and integrate linguistic units rapidly and effortlessly during online processing). These are investigated using a variety of methods, including analysis of spontaneous speech samples, behavioural experiments, and ERP recordings. While there is a considerable amount of work on fluency in the field of second language acquisition, it is almost virgin territory in work on L1 development (except among researchers dealing with language pathology). This research strand is thus be ground-breaking in many respects, and will give us a better understanding of the cognitive abilities underlying the development of fluency in typical first language acquisition as well as informing linguistic theory by exploring the similarities and differences in the development of fluency in first and second language acquisition.

C. Language and literacy

Modern linguistic theory is based largely on research on highly literate speakers of languages with a long written tradition – that is to say, hardly language in its “natural” state. This strand looks at how literacy affects language at both the developmental level (i.e., how becoming a skilled reader affects individual speakers’ mental grammars) and at the historical level (the effects that a long tradition of literacy has on language structure). This involves

  • Analyses of vocabulary richness (e.g. lexical density, lexical diversity) and grammatical complexity (e.g. use of subordination and complex noun phrases) in texts produced by highly literate and low-literate speakers;
  • Analogous analyses of historical corpora;
  • Experimental studies examining the relationship between print exposure and comprehension of complex syntax (focussing on subordination devices and discourse connectives);
  • Comprehension experiments and elicited production studies comparing the linguistic abilities of adult literates and illiterates.

Project team

Prof. Ewa Dąbrowska
Dr Laura Becker
Dr. Miguel Llompart Garcia
Ashley Blake
Magdalena Grose-Hodge



Dąbrowska, Ewa (2017) Ten Lectures on Grammar in the Mind. Brill (Distinguished Lectures in Cognitive Linguistics), Leiden [New edition of the 2013 volume].

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2013) Ten Lectures on Grammar in the Mind. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press (Eminent Linguist Lecture Series), Beijing. 

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2004) Language, Mind and Brain: Some Psychological and Neurological Constraints on Theories of Grammar. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh and Georgetown University Press, Georgetown.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1997) Cognitive Semantics and the Polish Dative. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin and New York.

Edited volumes

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Dagmar Divjak (2019) Cognitive Linguistics – Foundations of Language. De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Dagmar Divjak (2019) Cognitive Linguistics – Key Topics. De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Dagmar Divjak (2019) Cognitive Linguistics – A Survey of Linguistic Subfields. De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Dagmar Divjak (2015). Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Wojciech Kubiński (2003) Akwizycja języka w świetle językoznawstwa kognitywnego [Language acquisition from a cognitive linguistic perspective]  Uniwersitas, Kraków

Articles in refereed journals

Janko, Eleni, Ewa Dąbrowska and James Street (2019) Education and input as predictors of second language attainment in naturalistic contexts. Languages 4, 70. doi:10.3390/languages4030070.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2019) Experience, aptitude and individual differences in language attainment: A comparison of L1 and L2 speakers. Language Learning 69 (S1): 72-100.

Andringa, Sible and Ewa Dąbrowska (2019) Individual differences in first and second language ultimate attainment and their causes. Language Learning 69 (S1): 5-12

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2018) Experience, aptitude and individual differences in native language ultimate attainment. Cognition178: 222-235,

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2016) Cognitive linguistics’ seven deadly sins. Cognitive Linguistics 27: 479-491. 

Divjak, Dagmar,  Ewa Dąbrowska, and Antti Arppe (2016) Machine meets man.  Cognitive Linguistics 27: 1-33.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2015) What exactly is Universal Grammar, and has anyone seen it? Frontiers in Psychology 6: 852. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00852.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2014) ‘Words that go together’: Measuring individual differences in native speakers’ knowledge of collocations. Mental Lexicon 9: 401-418.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2014) Recycling utterances: A speaker’s guide to sentence processing. Cognitive Linguistics 25: 617-653.

Zimmerer, Vitor C.,  Ewa Dąbrowska,  Charles A. J. Romanowski, Catrin Blank and Rosemary A. Varley (2014) Preservation of passive constructions in a patient with primary progressive aphasia. Cortex 50: 7-18. DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2013.09.007.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2014) Implicit lexical knowledge. Linguistics 52(3), 205-223.

Street, James and Ewa Dąbrowska (2014) Lexically specific knowledge and individual differences in adult native speakers’ processing of the English passive. Applied Psycholinguistics 35: 97-118.

Dąbrowska, Ewa  (2013) Functional constraints, usage, and mental grammars: A study of speakers’ intuitions about questions with long-distance dependencies. Cognitive Linguistics 24(4): 633 – 665.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2013) Heritage languages: A new laboratory for empirical linguistics. Theoretical Linguistics 39(3–4): 195 – 201. DOI 10.1515/tl-2013-0011.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2013) (De)Constructing sentences.  Journal of Foreign Languages 36(1): 2-15.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2012) Different speakers, different grammars: Individual differences in native language attainment. Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 2: 219-253 (keynote article with peer commentary).

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2012) Explaining individual differences in linguistic proficiency Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism 2: 324-335 (response to peer commentary).

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2011) Who is afraid of constructivism? Infancia y Aprendizaje 34, 297-301.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2010) Productivity, proceduralisation and SLI: Comment on Hsu and Bishop Human Development 53, 276-284.

Street, James  and Ewa Dąbrowska  (2010) More individual differences in Language Attainment: How much do adult native speakers of English know about passives and quantifiers?. Lingua 120, 2080-2094.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2010) Naive v. expert intuitions: An empirical study of acceptability judgments. The Linguistic Review27, 1-23.

Dąbrowska, Ewa, Caroline Rowland and Anna Theakston (2009) The acquisition of questions with long-distance dependencies. Cognitive Linguistics 20, 571–597. Reprinted in Laura A. Janda, ed. (2013) Cognitive Linguistics: The Quantitative Turn. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2009) Constructing a second language: Some final thoughts. Annual Review of Cognitive Linguistics 7, 277–290.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Michael Tomasello (2008) Rapid learning of an abstract language-specific category: Polish children’s acquisition of the instrumental construction. Journal of Child Language 35, 533-558.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2008) Questions with long-distance dependencies: A usage-based perspective. Cognitive Linguistics 19:3, 391-425.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2008) The later development of an early-emerging system: The curious case of the Polish genitive. Linguistics 46:3, 629–650.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2008) The effects of frequency and neighbourhood density on adult native speakers’ productivity with Polish case inflections: An empirical test of usage-based approaches to morphology. Journal of Memory and Language 58, 931-951.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Marcin Szczerbiński (2006) Polish children’s productivity with case marking: the role of regularity, type frequency, and phonological diversity. Journal of Child Language 33, 559-597.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2006) Low-level schemas or general rules? The role of diminutives in the acquisition of Polish case inflections. Language Sciences 28, 120-135.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and James Street (2006) Individual differences in language attainment: Comprehension of passive sentences by native and non-native English speakers. Language Sciences 28, 604-615.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Elena Lieven (2005) Towards a lexically specific grammar of children’s question constructions. Cognitive Linguistics 16, 437-474.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2005) Productivity and beyond: mastering the Polish genitive inflection. Journal of Child Language 32, 191-205.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2004) Rules or schemas? Evidence from Polish. Language and Cognitive Processes 19, 225-271.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2001) Learning a morphological system without a default: The Polish genitive. Journal of Child Language 28, 545-574.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2001) Discriminating between constructivist and nativist positions: Fillers as evidence of generalisation. Journal of Child Language 28, 243-24.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2000) From formula to schema: The acquisition of English questions. Cognitive Linguistics 11, 83-102. Polish translation published in E. Dąbrowska and W. Kubiński (eds.) (2003) Przyswajanie języka w świetle językoznawstwa kognitywnego, Uniwersitas, Kraków, pp. 223-253.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1998) How metaphor affects grammatical coding: The Saxon genitive in computer manuals. English Language and Linguistics 2, 121-12 .

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1997) The LAD goes to school: A cautionary tale for nativists. Linguistics 35, 735-766.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1994) Dative and Nominative Experiencers:  Two Folk Theories of the Mind. Linguistics 32, 1029-1054.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1994) Some English Equivalents of Polish Dative Constructions. Papers and Studies in Contrastive Linguistics 29, 105-121.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1994) Radial Categories in Grammar: The Polish Instrumental Case. Linguistica Silesiana 15, 83-94.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1993) O językowej idealizacji świata [On linguistic idealisation of the world]. Bulletin de la Société Polonaise de Linguistique  XLIX, 35-42.

Dąbrowska, Ewa  (1992) O tak zwanym datiwie konwencjonalnym, czyli o znaczeniu form pozbawionych znaczenia [On the so-called ethical dative, or on the meaning of meaningless forms]. Poradnik Językowy 9-10, 643-651.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1991) The Case for Case Resurrected. Linguistica Silesiana 13, 7-37.

Book chapters

Dąbrowska, Ewa (in press) How writing changes language. In Anna Mauranen and Svetlana Vetchinnikova, Language Change: The Impact of English as a Lingua Franca.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2017). Why you can’t argue with 21 policemen: A linguistic black hole in Polish grammar. In Stephen M. Dickey, Dagmar Divjak and Anastasia Makarova (eds.), Thoughts on Language. Slavica, 71-84. (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2016) Looking into introspection. In Grzegorz Drożdż, ed. Studies in Lexicogrammar: Theory and Applications. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, 55-74 (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2015) Language  in the mind and in the community. In Jocelyne Daems, Eline Zenner, Kris Heylen, Dirk Speelman and Hubert Cuyckens (eds.) Change of Paradigms – New Paradoxes. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 221-235.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2015) Individual differences in grammatical knowledge. In Ewa Dąbrowska and Dagmar Divjak, eds.,Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. De Gruyter Mouton, Berlin, 650-668.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2011) Fleksja polska jako poligon doświadczalny językoznawstwa kognitywnego [Polish inflection as a testing ground for cognitive linguistics]. In Alina Kwiatkowska, ed., Przestrzenie kognitywnych poszukiwań. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, Łódź, 207-226. (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2010) Formulas in the acquisition of English interrogatives: A case study. In Danuta Stanulewicz, Tadeusz Z. Wolanski, Joanna Redzimska, eds., Lingua Terra Cognita II: A Festschrift for Roman Kalisz. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego, Gdańsk, 675-702. (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2010) The mean lean grammar machine meets the human mind: Empirical investigations of the mental status of rules. In Hans-Joerg Schmid and Susanne Handl, eds., Cognitive Foundations of Linguistic Usage Patterns. Empirical Studies. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, 151-170. (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2009) Words as constructions. In Vyvyan Evans and Stéphanie Pourcel, eds.,  New Directions in Cognitive Linguistics. John Benjamins, Amsterdam.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Wojciech Kubiński (2005) Procesy dziecięcej akwizycji języka w ujęciu kognitywnym [A cognitive approach to the process of child language acquisition]. In Henryk Kardela, Zbysław Muszyński and Maciej Rajewski, eds., Kognitywistyka. Problemy i perspektywy.. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej, Lublin, 113-139.

Dąbrowska, Ewa and Wojciech Kubiński (2004) Language acquisition in the light of cognitive linguistics. In Danute Balšaitytė, ed., Žmogus Kalbos Erdvėje [Man in the Space of Language].  Mokslinių straipsnių rinkinys 3(1), Vilniaus universiteto Kauno humanitarinis fakultetas, 253-267.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2000) Could a Chomskyan child learn Polish? The logical argument for learnability. In M. R. Perkins and S. Howard, eds. New Directions in Language Development and Disorders. Plenum,  New York, 85-96.

Dąbrowska, Ewa  (1996) The linguistic structuring of events: A study of Polish perfectivizing prefixes. In R. Dirven and M. Putz, eds., The Construal of Space in Language and Thought. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, 467-490.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1995) How to talk about bodily experience: The role of construal in determining the choice of case category. In R. Hunt and U. Phillips, eds., Muza Donowa. A Celebration of Donald Pirie’s Contribution to Polish Studies. Astra Press, Nottingham, 23-33. (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1992) Potoczność w służbie semantyki – językowy model relacji przestrzennych w pionie. [Conventional imagery at the service of semantics: the linguistic model of verticality]. In J. Anusiewicz and F. Nieckula, eds., Język a kultura, vol. 5, Potoczność w języku i kulturze, Uniwersytet Wrocławski, Wrocław, 58-71.

Other publications

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2012) Ultimate Attainment in First and Second Language Acquisition.  Proceedings of the JACET 51st International Convention, JACET, 1-6. (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa, Ian Roberts, Yoshihiko Ikegami, Masanori Toyota, and Yujitsu Omori (2012). Some Insights into the Application of Contemporary Language Theories to Advanced English Education: Analysing PASSIVISATION as an Archetypal Model from Multiple Linguistic Viewpoints. Proceedings of the JACET 51st International Convention, JACET, 14-19. (*)

Haman, Ewa, Bartłomiej Etenkowski, Magdalena Łuniewska, Joanna Szwabe, Ewa Dąbrowska,  Marta Szreder, and Marek Łaziński (2011) Polish CDS Corpus. Talkbank. Available from:;; ISBN: 978-1-59642-393-0.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2009) Review of The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Language 85. 721-724. (*)

Dąbrowska, Ewa (2009) Cognitive Linguistics comes of age. Editorial, Cognitive Linguistics 20, 1-3.

Dąbrowska, Ewa (1989) Ogólnopolska konferencja ‘Nauczanie języka polskiego i kształcenie polonistyczne cudzoziemców’. Poradnik Językowy 7, 58-61 [report on a national conference on teaching  Polish language and culture to foreigners, 16-18 October 1988, Gdańsk]. (*)