PAL lab - Research

 Research Themes

Research in our laboratory uses linguistic reference as a theoretical and methodological anchor point for exploring aspects of real-time language processing. Much of this research uses a spoken language eye tracking methodology in which gaze position is recorded as listeners follow spoken instructions.  Below is a brief overview of some of our recent research activities.

image of adult on phoneAging and linguistic reference.  Comparatively little is known about how referential abilities change across the adult lifespan.  In recent work we have explored the real-time processing abilities of older adults (65+) in relation to: (i) spoken word recognition in quiet and noisy contexts, (ii) effects of momentary disfluencies on referential processing, and (iii) how processing is affected when linguistic descriptions provide unneeded information or are descriptively "just right".  We have also examined differences in younger and older adults' ability to plan and produce referentially adequate descriptions in different contexts. 


image of sound waveThe dynamics of spoken word recognition. This work explores phenomena or languages outside the traditional focus of research in this area.  Topics include dialect-specific allophonic variation, how listeners compensate for the blending of adjacent sounds in casual speech, the importance of cross-linguistic differences in lexical structure, word segmentation ambiguities in runnign speech, and the effects of context on lexical access in bilinguals.   



Image of a yo-yo

• "Tough cases" in linguistic reference.  These studies focus on expressions whose referents cannot be established as easily as the cases typically studied in psycholinguistics.  Some of this work focuses on evaluative descriptions such as the ugly dress, which involve speaker-subjective meanings. Other work has used visually deceptive objects, like a yo-yo that looks like a baseball. Upon hearing a description like the yo-yo, is a listener’s lexical and referential processing disrupted by the fact that the target referent resembles something else (even when they know it's a yo-yo)?  Can listeners remember that their conversational partner is unaware of the actual identity of a visually deceptive object?  This work relates to communicative perspective-taking, the notion of common ground in conversational interaction, and various linguistic phenomena such as referential opacity and the distinction between sense and reference


image of preschooler• Referential interpretation in preschoolers.  A longstanding line of collaborative work with Susan Graham (University of Calgary) examines children’s ability to draw on a range of contextual and paralinguistic cues during real-time interpretation.  This work has explored childrens' sensitivity to emotional prosody, momentary disfluencies, and talker identity cues in the speech stream. A related line of work explores communicative perspective-taking in children across different circumstances, and the relation to individual differences in cognitive control and mentalizing ability.



images a clipart lantern and a photograph of a lantern• Finally, some recent work explores the iconic-symbolic continuum in linguistic reference.  For example, when and why can we refer to a photograph or drawing of a lantern as "the lantern" seeing as neither of them are actually a lantern but are instead two dimensional representations? Does the degree of realism in 2D images affect how easily listeners relate them to conceptual knowledge during real-time processing?




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