Psycholinguistics focuses on how humans process linguistic input and Computational linguistics focuses on how computational models of language processing. Such research can be complementary (e.g. the area of Computational Psycholinguistics explores mathematical models of how cognitive agents acquire and/or process language), or not. Faculty members of the Department of Linguistics use a variety of empirical, quantitative, and experimental methods to investigate how humans and machines can represent and process human language. Current research by both faculty and graduate students includes:
Jürgen Bohnemeyer, PhD pursues experimental research on the relationship between language and thought as an application of his work on semantic typology. Linguistic categorization varies across languages, if only within the bounds of constraints imposed by cognition. Semantic typology seeks to isolate universals of the language-cognition interface and determine what properties of linguistic representations are specific to particular languages and cultures.
To the extent that conceptual categories are learned, linguistic categories may serve as powerful “bootstraps” for the enculturating individual learning to tune into culture-specific conceptualizations. The Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis (LRH) (that linguistic representations may constrain and shape non-linguistic cognitive representations), has long been debated in the cognitive sciences. Bohnemeyer has conducted tests of the LRH in the domains of temporal and spatial semantics within what is sometimes called the Neo-Whorfian program: identify two or more populations whose native languages differ in the constraints they impose on linguistic representations of particular states of affairs; perform experiments to assess internal cognitive representations of the states of affairs in these populations; if linguistic performance proves to be a predictor of cognitive performance, then look for additional evidence to make the case that the correlation in fact reflects causation from the properties of external representations to those of internal representations.
Rui P. Chaves, PhD's research lies at the intersection of construction-based linguistic theory, psycholinguistics, and computational modelling. In particular, his research focuses on how frequency effects can explain complex behavioural phenomena when processing unbounded dependency constructions. Put differently, if we discover how humans can process complex structures so efficiently and robustly, we can create more sophisticated theories of language and of language processing.
Jean-Pierre Koenig, PhD’s research focuses on the use of lexical information (particularly semantic information) in on-line sentence processing. In collaboration with Gail Mauner, he has explored the various ways in which argument structure is used to integrate constituents that co-occur with verbs, trying to distinguish the role of semantic argumenthood, world knowledge about situations, co-occurrence frequency, and morphosyntactic “activeness.”