Linguistics and Language

Linguistics and Language at Brown


A multidisciplinary approach to language

Language is one of the most complex cognitive capacities that humans possess. Language articulation and perception involves the physical properties of the human vocal tract and ears, but also of the neural underpinning of our perception. Understanding meaning requires understanding the syntax and semantics of language, as well as the social nuances of what information one is expected to provide. Language acquisition by children affects and is affected by their cognitive development. All this is to say that the study of human language is a fundamentally multidisciplinary endeavor and one that therefore requires a broad range of different methodologies working both in parallel and in collaboration.

The CLPS department at Brown embodies this perspective, offering PhD programs in Linguistics as well as Cognitive Science and bringing together researchers studying different aspects of language including phonology and language change, semantics, pragmatics, syntax-semantics interface, child language acquisition, and language and memory. We use a diverse range of methodologies including formal modeling, linguistic fieldwork, neurolinguistic methods including fMRI (both with normal participants and aphasic patients), psycholinguistic methods including reading time and eye-tracking, and quantitative corpus methods and computational modeling. Beyond this, the broader intellectual environment in the department offers great opportunities for students to draw on work spanning common disciplinary boundaries.

Important links

Graduate program

Undergraduate program

News (coming soon)

Ling Lang Lunch Schedule (coming soon)


Core ling/lang faculty:

Scott AnderBois:

Scott AnderBois earned his PhD from the Dept. of Linguistics at UC Santa Cruz in 2011, joining the Brown CLPS faculty in 2013. His research explores issues in semantics, pragmatics, and their interfaces through a variety of methods including primary fieldwork, with a particular focus on Yucatec Maya and other Mayan and Austronesian languages. AnderBois's research applies a broadly dynamic perspective to understanding the ways in which sentence meanings interact with the discourses in which they are uttered as well as the specific contributions of various morphemes, words, and sentence structures forms to these interactions.

Link: Personal Site


Sheila Blumstein:

Blumstein's research is concerned with understanding the processes and mechanisms involved in speaking and understanding and delineating their neural basis. Her research has focused on how the continuous acoustic signal is transformed by perceptual and neural mechanisms into the sound structure of language, how the sound structure of language maps to the lexicon (mental dictionary), and how the mental dictionary is organized for the purposes of language comprehension and production. Her lab uses a number of methodologies including behavioral measures with young adults, functional neuroimaging of young and older adults, and behavioral measures of aphasic patients correlated with structural measures of neuropathology.

Link: The Brown Speech Lab


Uriel Cohen Priva

One of the fascinating aspects of language is the interaction of multiple constraints of different nature: physiological, cognitive, communicative and social pressures shape human language. Speakers may wish to ease the difficulty of articulating some word, but still need to make themselves understood by others. Change processes that are motivated by functional considerations may adversely affect other functional needs: word-final /t/ deletion in English may be motivated by the redundancy of /t/ in English, but when speakers elide the word-final /t/ in can’t, they fail to make themselves understood. My research focuses on the interaction between those multiple pressures. In particular, I study how perceptual and articulatory pressures interact with the amount of information linguistic units carry.

Link: Personal Site


Philip Hofmeiser (visiting):

Using behavioral methods, I look at how we remember (and forget) during online sentence processing, with an emphasis on how contextual uniqueness facilitates memory retrieval processes. In other work using acceptability judgments, I explore how cognitive constraints and expectations affect the stability and trajectory of grammar. In short, what makes a grammar have the ‘shape’ that it does? Other research interests include referential form choice, discourse planning and production, resumptive pronouns, and experimental syntax.

Link: Personal Site


Pauline Jacobson:

Pauline Jacobson's research concerns constructing formal models of the syntax and semantics of natural language with a particular concern on how the two systems work together. Her research program is driven by the conviction that the architecture of the grammar is maximally simple: this leads to the hypothesis of 'Direct Compositionality'. This is that the syntax and semantics work 'in tandem' (the former is a system that speakers' unconsciously 'know' allowing them to predict the set of well-formed expressions in their language and the latter is the system that allows them to pair each such expression with a meaning). This modeling involves using formal tools developed within logic and applying them to subtle domains in language such as the interpretation of pronouns (which is highly variable depending on where they appear), the interpretation of elliptical constructions (constructions where material appears to be missing), and the interactions of these with each other and with things like quantification. She recently completed a graduate level textbook on compositional semantics (Compositional Semantics: An Introduction to the Syntax/Semantics Interface) published by Oxford University Press.

Link: Personal Page


James Morgan:

Beginning academic life as a linguist with interests in language processing and computation, I switched over in graduate school to become a (developmental) psychologist. In my youth, claims about innate bases and properties of language predominated. I am not altogether unsympathetic with that viewpoint, but it has always seemed to me that the most powerful argument for language preprogramming must be made by considering the strongest possible empirically supportable assumptions about richness of language input and the power of learners' perceptual, representational, and analytic capacities, and then determining specific aspects of language where these fall short. I have devoted my career to exploring the nature of language input (the auditory and, more recently, visual experiences of infants) and the nature of infants' language processing abilities. I have focused particularly on infants' spoken word recognition – a set of complex perceptual and computational skills fundamental for language comprehension and acquisition, involving arguably the most central unit of language structure.

Link: Infant Research Lab

CLPS Faculty in adjacent areas:


Faculty in other departments: