Our research focuses on the cognitive mechanisms that underlie communication and language. We have three major research focuses within the lab:
- Prosody – Language is typically studied in terms of the words and sentences we choose; however, there are other aspects of language that are at least as important. These fall into the category of not what we say but how we say it. This aspect of language is called prosody. It includes the stress, pitch, rhythm, and intonation of language. Although communication is possible when prosody is absent, as in email or in texts, communication is more challenging. A brief response in an email might be interpreted as curtness rather than the result of the author being in a hurry. An ironic response in a text message might sound like biting sarcasm without the accompanying prosodic information. Despite its importance, we know very little about the structure of prosody, the cognitive processes that are deployed in constructing it, or how it is interpreted. Understanding prosody is critical for building speech systems, designing interventions for individuals with communication disorders, and in developing pedagogical strategies for people learning English as a second language. A psychological theory of prosody could also answer a very basic question about communication: What makes certain ways of speaking more effective than others for listeners? In the Communication and Language Lab we investigate the cognitive mechanisms that underlie the production and processing of prosody.
- Individual Differences -One of the most important findings in language processing in the past 25 years is the fact that the statistics of a language play a key role in language processing: language users are sensitive to linguistic frequency. This has typically been explored by investigating how the frequency of information in the linguistic input influences parsing and production. We have taken a different approach. We explore how an individual’s linguistic experience influences her language processing abilities. By understanding how cognitive capacity and language experience guide reading, speaking, and spoken language understanding, our goal is to better understand the role of language experience in building linguistic representations. Our interests also extend to understanding the role of language experience on children’s reading ability.
- Production – One of the key findings in our laboratory is that the way in which words are produced can provide a window into language production process. Our lab examines speech rate and word duration with the goal of understanding how speakers plan their utterances on the fly.