Successful language processing requires speaker and hearer to dynamically create richly structured representations within a few hundred milliseconds of encountering each new word.
Our group asks how this feat is achieved, whether it is achieved in the same fashion across languages with varying word order and morphological markers, what are the possible neural encoding mechanisms for richly structured information and how the dynamics of language processing differ in adult native speakers, child and adult language learners, or in atypical learners.
Some distinctive features of the Maryland group include its expertise in cross-language research (e.g., recent studies on Japanese, Hindi, Mandarin, Portuguese, Basque, Russian, American Sign Language and Spanish); its use of diverse tools to investigate language-related processes (reading time, eye-movement measures, EEG and MEG measures of millisecond-grain brain activity and fMRI measures of brain localization); and its work involving neuro-computational modeling of language processing and studies of developmental and atypical populations. The rich network of connections between investigators make it feasible to try to seamlessly align insights from formal grammars with findings from psycho/neurolinguistics and computational neuroscience, often in ways that we could not have imagined a few years ago.
Research in psycholinguistics at Maryland is not pursued as a separate enterprise, but rather is closely integrated into all research areas of the department and the broader language science community. Weekly research group meetings primarily feature student presentations of in-progress research and typically attract 20-30 people.
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Linguistic meanings as cognitive instructions
"More" and "most" do not encode the same sorts of comparison.
Natural languages like English connect pronunciations with meanings. Linguistic pronunciations can be described in ways that relate them to our motor system (e.g., to the movement of our lips and tongue). But how do linguistic meanings relate to our nonlinguistic cognitive systems? As a case study, we defend an explicit proposal about the meaning of most by comparing it to the closely related more: whereas more expresses a comparison between two independent subsets, most expresses a subset–superset comparison. Six experiments with adults and children demonstrate that these subtle differences between their meanings influence how participants organize and interrogate their visual world. In otherwise identical situations, changing the word from most to more affects preferences for picture–sentence matching (experiments 1–2), scene creation (experiments 3–4), memory for visual features (experiment 5), and accuracy on speeded truth judgments (experiment 6). These effects support the idea that the meanings of more and most are mental representations that provide detailed instructions to conceptual systems.
Processing adjunct control: Evidence on the use of structural information and prediction in reference resolution
How does online comprehension of adjunct control ("before eating") compare to resolution of pronominal anaphora ("before he ate")?
The comprehension of anaphoric relations may be guided not only by discourse, but also syntactic information. In the literature on online processing, however, the focus has been on audible pronouns and descriptions whose reference is resolved mainly on the former. This paper examines one relation that both lacks overt exponence, and relies almost exclusively on syntax for its resolution: adjunct control, or the dependency between the null subject of a non-finite adjunct and its antecedent in sentences such as Mickey talked to Minnie before ___ eating. Using visual-world eyetracking, we compare the timecourse of interpreting this null subject and overt pronouns (Mickey talked to Minnie before he ate). We show that when control structures are highly frequent, listeners are just as quick to resolve reference in either case. When control structures are less frequent, reference resolution based on structural information still occurs upon hearing the non-finite verb, but more slowly, especially when unaided by structural and referential predictions. This may be due to increased difficulty in recognizing that a referential dependency is necessary. These results indicate that in at least some contexts, referential expressions whose resolution depends on very different sources of information can be resolved approximately equally rapidly, and that the speed of interpretation is largely independent of whether or not the dependency is cued by an overt referring expression.
Null Objects in Korean: Experimental Evidence for the Argument Ellipsis Analysis
Experimental evidence supports an analysis of Null Object constructions in Korean as instances of object ellipsis.
Null object (NO) constructions in Korean and Japanese have receiveddifferent accounts: as (a) argument ellipsis (Oku 1998, S. Kim 1999, Saito 2007, Sakamoto 2015), (b) VP-ellipsis after verb raising (Otani and Whitman 1991, Funakoshi 2016), or (c) instances of base-generated pro (Park 1997, Hoji 1998, 2003). We report results from two experiments supporting the argument ellipsis analysis for Korean. Experiment 1 builds on K.-M. Kim and Han’s (2016) finding of interspeaker variation in whether the pronoun ku can be bound by a quantifier. Results showed that a speaker’s acceptance of quantifier-bound ku positively correlates with acceptance of sloppy readings in NO sentences. We argue that an ellipsis account, in which the NO site contains internal structure hosting the pronoun, accounts for this correlation. Experiment 2, testing the recovery of adverbials in NO sentences, showed that only the object (not the adverb) can be recovered in the NO site, excluding the possibility of VP-ellipsis. Taken together, our findings suggest that NOs result from argument ellipsis in Korean.