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Research Overview

I am currently an ILST Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, working in the Psychology department with John Trueswell (Language Learning Lab) and in the Linguistics department with Anna Papafragou (Language & Cognition Lab) and Jianjing Kuang (Penn Phonetics Lab). I completed my Ph.D. in Psychology under the supervision of Anne Cutler at the MARCS Institute in Sydney, Australia. My graduate research was funded by the Australian Postgraduate Scholarship and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language (CoEDL).


Human language is a system of astounding complexity. With only a meager set of phonemes, a limited repertoire of articulatory gestures, and a finite grammar, hundreds of thousands of words can be constructed and combined to generate an infinite range of expressions. For this reason, the speech signal is never immediately transparent. Almost every spoken utterance we encounter in our conversations will be a new utterance, and almost every word will resemble, or occur embedded within, another word. At the same time, speech in all languages is fast, continuous, transitory, and highly variable. In the face of so much uncertainty, how do listeners convert such a messy and complex string of sounds into meaningful words, sentences, and dialogues?

I study how humans process, acquire, and use spoken language. Here are some of the fundamental questions that I pursue:

*How do different domains of spoken language relate and constrain each other?

*What are the universal and language-specific mechanisms responsible for speech processing, and how do they interact during language acquisition?

*How do certain aspects of the speech stream contribute to the socio-pragmatic meaning of the language input?

*How do listeners compute cues to social meaning from the speech signal in real time?

I address these questions through experimental, cross-linguistic, and developmental approaches. In much of my graduate research, I have paid a particular focus on prosodic cues. Prosody is considered to be one of the most language-specific dimensions of speech, but it is unclear whether prosody also plays a universal role in processing, and very few cross-language attempts have been made to explore this possibility. My ultimate goal is to develop a more inclusive theory of language use by studying how speakers and listeners, across languages and age groups, exploit various kinds of speech cues to integrate different aspects of language.

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