Research Interests

The members of the Psycholinguistics Research Group at York share a common interest in the mental processes that underpin language use, both in adults and in children.   Our research contains a number of interwoven strands that encompass a range of issues in word recognition, sentence comprehension, and sentence production. Current research addresses the following issues: the organisation of the mental lexicon; phonological (and other) processes in spoken word recognition; the mapping of continuous speech onto the lexicon; the interface between lexical and sentence-level processing; syntactic parsing; thematic role assignment during sentence processing; the role of context (including visual context) in both sentence interpretation and lexical access; the relationship between sentence comprehension and visual scene interpretation; and the representation of sequential/temporal information during grammar learning.   A number of these issues are being addressed in empirical studies with both adults and children.  Facilities include standard research tools for e.g. priming and reading studies, as well as two eye-trackers for monitoring language-mediated eye-movements in adults and children. We also have access to the neuroimaging facilities at the York Neuroimaging Centre (YNiC).

Note that there are more people on these pages than on the People page. That's because people do occasionally leave (much as we wish they didn't...). In honour of them, and their contribution to the lab, we leave their entries on
this page

Individual Research Interests:

Gerry Altmann

My main interest is in the interaction between contextually derived information (whether the linguistic context or a concurrent visual context) and sentence processing.   By sentence processing, I generally mean 'thematic role assignment', but I also investigate, or have investigated, syntactic ambiguity resolution and parsing.  Most recently, this work has relied on the fact that during sentence processing, people appear to anticipate what will be referred to next; if they hear a sentence whilst looking at a visual scene containing objects referred to in that sentence, we can see that people look towards certain objects that are about to be mentioned without actually waiting for them to be mentioned (so after 'the boy will eat..', they might look at whatever is edible in the scene, without waiting to hear what is actually going to be mentioned next - they even do this if the scene is first
removed; that is, they look to where the objects had been).   This interest in using eye movements to explore language processing in visual contexts has led me to start studying visual attention and visual scene interpretation more directly: With
Anne Pier Salverda
I have been exploring the automaticity (or otherwise) of language-mediated eye movements. With Silvia Gennari I have been considering the following question: to what extent might the products of sentence comprehension overlap with the products of visual scene interpretation? In a not so past life, I also worked on implicit artificial grammar learning and connectionist modeling of sequence learning.

Gareth Gaskell

Nicolas Dumay
, Anna Maria di Betta, Jakke Tamminen, and Shane Lindsay I've been working on the factors involved in the development of lexical representations. The basic question here is how does a new word enter the mental lexicon and join in the competitive process of spoken word recognition. This research has led me to work on the role of sleep in memory consolidation and language learning, and has led to some brain imaging research in collaboration with Matt Davis. 

Recent research with Natalie Snoeren, Anna Maria Di Betta, Meghan Clayards and
Oliver Niebuhr has looked at the representations and processes involved in the perception of spoken words. One important question in this domain addresses how listeners cope with the wide range of variation in the surface form of speech. I have been exploring the perceptual effects of a common source of these changes, phonological variation, which can neutralise phonemic distinctions in connected speech. This research has been largely conducted in English and French.

Another strand of research has examined issues of activation and competition between lexical candidates during the course of a word's perception. This research has led to the development, with
William Marslen-Wilson, of a connectionist model of speech perception based on the distributed representation of various types of lexical knowledge. 

In collaboration with Philip Quinlan, Sandie Cleland and Jakke Tamminen, I have been using the Psychological Refractory Period as a way of gaining insight into the architecture of the word recognition system.

Silvia Gennari

I am interested in understanding how we produce in comprehend sentences in real time, how these processes are instantiated in the brain and how they interact with other cognitive abilities such as visual perception and knowledge representation. Specifically, I am interested in the processing and representation of verbs and sentences referring to events of different kinds and how real world experience and language specific properties can influence the way we produce and interpret language.

Jelena Mirkovic

My main interests involve examining how our experience with language and the environment influence languge processing in real-time. I use computational models (artificial neural networks) and a variety of behavioral methods (e.g. eye-tracking) to study this question in language production and comprehension. Some recent projects include monitoring participants' eye movements while answering questions about pictures (with Silvia Gennari ), or listening to sentences describing events about to happen in a picture (with Gerry Altmann). I have used similar methods to study sentence processing in a second language (with Danijela Trenkic). Other projects include using connectionist models and behavioral studies to explore how we know that words have sub-components (e.g. the word cats consists of a part meaning 'a feline animal', and another part meaning 'more than one'), or grammatical categories such as grammatical gender (this last bit obviously not done in English, but Serbian, a south Slavic language spoken in south-eastern Europe).

Shane Lindsay

I am working on embodied cognition (how language, perception, and action are inter-related), and on the consolidation of the mental lexicon through sleep (with Gareth Gaskell).

Kilian Seeber

I am interested in complex language processing tasks and in the cognitive processes allowing humans to engage in simultaneous language comprehension and production. My previous research has looked at working memory and cognitive load phenomena during such processing tasks. Currently I am interested in applying the visual world paradigm and the blank screen paradigm to the exploration of anticipation and cross-modal priming in language comprehension, which I do with Gerry Altmann.

Alice Cruikshank

Meghan Clayards

I am interested in how our experience with language shapes our interpretation of language. In particular I'm interested in how our experience with phonetic patterns influences how we interpret speech when we are listening to language. In previous work I have manipulated the phonetic patterns that listeners are exposed to and examined how their interpretations of speech were affected. At York I am collaborating with Gareth Gaskell and Oliver Neihbur (University of Provence, Aix en Provence) to compare how the different experiences of French and English listeners affects how they use phonetic context in interpreting speech. We are using a combination of phonetic studies - to identify language-specific patterns, computational modeling - to predict how these paterns will influence listener behaviour, and eyetracking studies - to examine how listeners use phonetic context in the on-line interpretation of speech. 

Xierong Liu

My general research question is how high-level cognitive functions influence low-level oculomotor responses. My current work mainly involves investigations on the effect that the semantics of single words have on saccadic and pursuit eye movements, which could be explained by a shared attentional mechanism. I use the technique of eye-tracking to address questions such as how this interaction between cognitive functions and eye movements is achieved and whether different types of words affect eye movements in distinct ways. This research could generate findings that are potentially theoretically constraining for models of eye movements and attention.

Jakke Tamminen

I joined York in 2003 to work on a project with Gareth Gaskell, Philip Quinlan and Sandie Cleland, using the Psychological Refractory Period as a tool of investigating issues in speech processing. We have used a variety of methods to examine a range of questions such as integration of phonemic information and nature of lexical semantics. I'm starting a PhD in autumn 2006, supervised by Gareth Gaskell, which will examine the emergence of semantic representations in newly acquired words. This follows on from related research I did for my MSc in which we discovered the surprising longevity of novel lexical representations, and will combine a traditional behavioural approach with a neuroimaging approach using MEG.

Helen Brown

My main area of interest is new word learning.  Research in adults has demonstrated a temporal dissociation between the formation of new phonological representations and the integration of these new representations into the existing lexicon.  The former appears to occur immediately after a new word is encountered, whilst the latter requires longer periods of time that include sleep.  One question that remains is whether the representations of new words change qualitatively over time, presumably containing large amounts of episodic detail initially, but becoming more abstract over time.  This is the question that my PhD will attempt to address.
I am also interested in investigating whether children and adults use similar word learning mechanisms.  As part of my masters project I conducted an small pilot study looking at whether sleep benefits new word learning in children, as has already been demonstrated in adults.  Our preliminary results suggest that this is indeed the case, indicating that children and adults do in fact use similar word learning mechanisms

Chris Rowson

My interests lie in the mental representation and activation of event-based knowledge in adults. Specifically, my research has focussed on the processing of language during, or subsequent to viewing a visual scene or array, achieved through the use of eyetracking and semantic priming methodologies. Data collected in partial requirement of my MSc suggests that participants rapidly integrate the affordances (what a particular entity affords in terms of interaction with it) of two different items that share a common combinatorial goal. For example, if participants saw a picture of a bird and then a puddle, they were faster to respond to the word 'drink' in lexical decision, compared to when the bird was paired with a book. As a drinking event can only occur when the bird is shown prior to a puddle, a mismatch occurs when this item is shown with a book, resulting a deleterious effect to participants' response times to the target word. Interestingly, this processing of combinatorial semantics can operate within a timeframe as small as 250 milliseconds. As my research highlights the ways in which vision, language and action (at least in representational terms) can interact, it has implications for the study of embodied cognition. I also have an interest in computational modelling although findings so far have been derived from behavioural work.

Gitta Joergensen

I am interested in the interaction between language-induced event representations and visually encoded event representations. As events unfold, changes occur (e.g. objects are handled, lost, or moved to new locations), whereby we must keep track of multiple representations of the same object during different stages of the event. While comprehension in the context of an unchanging visual scene provides a single visually encoded representation, language further promotes a set of dynamically changing mental representations that each corresponds to a specific stage of the unfolding event. Recent research by Altmann and Kamide  (in press) suggest that these language-induced dynamic representations may, at times, compete with their visually encoded equivalents. My current work explores the effects of plausibility and affordability on such competing representations, measuring language-mediated eye movements in conjunction with the blank screen paradigm.

Previous members of the lab, and current collaborators

Natalie Snoeren

I used to work with Gareth Gaskell as a post-doctoral research fellow at York from October 2006 until March 2008, supported by funding from the French Fondation Fyssen. Before that I was a post-graduate student at the University Paris Descartes, Paris, France, and before that an undergraduate student at the Radboud University of Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Back then, I have engaged in research on foreign language acquisition and bilingual word recognition (with Ton Dijkstra and Jonathan Grainger). 
I've been interested in the question as to how listeners cope with the large range of variation in spoken word recognition. My PhD research, supervised by Juan Segui, has looked into the production and perception processes of the phonological variation of voice assimilation in  French. Large parts of my PhD thesis have led to several publications (cf. Snoeren, Hallé, Segui, JPhon, 2006;  Snoeren et al., 2008, JEP: HP&P ; Snoeren et al., Cognition, 2008).
With Gareth Gaskell at York, I've been looking at the computational modelling of French voice assimilation using a connectionist network that was designed to account for processing of English place assimilation (cf. Gaskell, Journal of Phonetics,  2003). Moreover, we have been conducting a series of behavioural experiments on English assimilation processes (Gaskell & Snoeren, JEP:HPP, in press). In collaboration with Anna Maria Di Betta, we have also explored the perceptual processing of place assimilation in newly learned novel words (Snoeren, Gaskell, Di Betta, JEP:LMC, in press), thereby neatly combining the study of assimilation processes with the novel word learning paradigm, developed by G. Gaskell and colleagues. In collaboration with Angel Nevado-Perez, I am currently working towards a Bayesian model to simulate these recent behavioural findings.      

Leanne Sedin

I was a research student under the supervision of Gareth Gaskell, working on morphological processing in spoken word recognition. In particular my PhD is based on the nature of lexical access and representation of complex spoken words. Recently I have looked at differences in lexical effects on phonetic categorisation in morphologically complex and monomorphemic words, finding evidence to suggest that regularly inflected verbs differ from monomorphemic verbs in their representation at early stages of spoken word recognition. I am also interested in the implications of a novel wordÕs implied morphological structure for the process of lexicalisation, and the extent to which newly lexicalised words exert lexical effects in phonetic categorisation.

Anna Maria di Betta

My research interests span from language to memory processes, both in developmental and in brain-damaged subjects. During the last few years I have been mainly concerned with the process of lexical acquisition. Initially, in collaboration with Cristina Romani in Birmingham, I have focused on developmental dyslexia/dysgraphia in adults and, specifically, on the role that the ability to set up new lexical representations can have in different sub-types of this disorder. More recently, after an 18 month break on maternity leave, I have joined Gareth Gaskell at York where, at the moment, I am looking at the time-course of the development of semantic features in new phonological representations.

Sandie Cleland

I was working on a project investigating informational bottlenecks in speech perception (working with Gareth Gaskell, Philip Quinlan and Jakke Tamminen). This project aims to establish the nature of the relationship between central attentional resources and language processing. I am also interested in language production, in particular the processes underlying choice of word order. My PhD (from Edinburgh University and supervised by Martin Pickering) focussed on a number of specific issues: how syntactic formulation is affected by time constraints, whether syntactic representations are accessed in the same way for written and spoken production, and to what degree semantic and phonological factors can affect syntactic encoding. Much of this research has involved syntactic priming (or syntactic persistence) paradigms, both within speaker and in a dialogue setting.I am currently working on a project investigating informational bottlenecks in speech perception (working with Gareth Gaskell, Philip Quinlan and Jakke Tamminen). This project aims to establish the nature of the relationship between central attentional resources and language processing. I am also interested in language production, in particular the processes underlying choice of word order. My PhD (from Edinburgh University and supervised by Martin Pickering) focussed on a number of specific issues: how syntactic formulation is affected by time constraints, whether syntactic representations are accessed in the same way for written and spoken production, and to what degree semantic and phonological factors can affect syntactic encoding. Much of this research has involved syntactic priming (or syntactic persistence) paradigms, both within speaker and in a dialogue setting.

Celine Chereau

I am interested in studying the interactions between orthographic and phonological codes in the processing of words. Mainly, I have studied this question in terms of auditory processing, but to a lesser extent, I have looked at these interactions in the processing of printed words. The main conclusions of these works are that 1/ the orthographic code influences the processing of spoken words, 2/ the phonological code influences the processing of printed words, and so 4/ these interactions seems to be bi-directional, but 5/ the code compatible with the presentation modality (orthographic in visual and phonological in auditory) prevails. Now, in the scope of my post-doctorate, I'm exploring more deeply at these interactions with Gareth Gaskell at the University of York.

Nicolas Dumay

My background is experimental cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. I am particularly interested in the perceptual, cognitive and neurophysiological mechanisms underlying spoken word recognition and lexical acquisition. To date my research has been devoted to three topics. Under the supervison of Monique Radeau (FNRS, Brussels) and Alain Content (Université libre de Bruxelles) and in collaboration with Mireille Besson (CNRS, Marseille), I have been studying the nature of the representations guiding the mapping process between the speech input and the word units in lexical memory, using both behavioral and electrophysiological measures. With Alain Content and Uli H. Frauenfelder (Université de Genève), I have been investigating how listeners manage to segment adequately the utterances in their lexical constituents. This latter part of my work constitutes the main core of a doctoral dissertation which should be submitted in the course of this year. Finally, in collaboration with Gareth Gaskell (University of York), I have recently started a post-doctoral project which addresses the issue of lexical acquisition, primarily by examining the lexical footprint of newly-learned words or their influence on the processing of words of the native language.

Graham Hitch

My general interest is working memory and its involvement in language and cognition. Of late I have been especially interested in phonological working memory, working with Neil Burgess  (ICN, London) to develop a connectionist model that both reproduces known empirical data and makes novel predictions  (Burgess & Hitch, 1999). One set of predictions involves the so-called Hebb effect, whereby a sequence of familiar elements is learned through repetition. I am currently making empirical tests of the model's predictions about sequence learning. A broader goal of this work is to investigate constraints on the way phonological, lexical and serial order information interact during learning and, in the longer term, relate these findings to vocabulary acquisition.  The research involves a new collaboration with Mike Page (University of Hertfordshire), who has developed a competing model of the encoding and retrieval of serial order.

Another of my interests is the role of more central limitations of working memory in children's language and cognitive skills. This work has involved collaboration with John Towse (University of Lancaster). We have developed a new theoretical interpretation of 'working memory span', the standard tool for assessing individual differences in working memory (see e.g Hitch et al., 2001), and we are currently testing predictions of our hypothesis. A broader aim of this work is to find more effective ways of assessing central working memory in children and to gain a clearer understanding of the way the system develops.

Falk Huettig

My main research interest is the nature of context and a person's interaction with it and how these may affect language processing. My PhD work focuses on lexical ambiguity resolution using the visual world paradigm.  Past research has shown that any account of the processes underlying lexical ambiguity resolution that does not include an account of changing activation patterns over time cannot capture a complete picture of the processes underlying meaning selection.   Moreover, it appears that some types of context lead to activation of single meanings while other contexts result in multiple access.   My research attempts to investigate what types of context (types of sentences, amount of linguistic context, different tasks, types of stimuli, etc.) affect participants' performance. Before coming to York I have been working as a research assistant with Martin Pickering at Edinburgh University investigating language processing using a dual purkinje image eyetracker. I have also worked   with Rob Hartsuiker at Edinburgh investigating cross-linguistic issues in language production. My MSc (with Martin Corley)   explored the semantic interpretation of   German verb-final sentences.

Yuki Kamide

I used to work with
Gerry Altmann as a post-doc here at York since August 1998, supported by two MRC grants awarded to Gerry. Since October 2002 I've been a lecturer in the Psychology Department at the University of Manchester. My main research interest is concerned with incrementality in human sentence processing. In particular, my research here mainly focuses on the question of whether people anticipate or predict certain properties of subsequent lexical items before they are actually encountered in the sentence. We use a relatively new eye-tracking technique, the so-called "visual world paradigm", to investigate the prediction issue. One of the aims of my current research is to clarify properties of the predictors (information/constraints to be used in prediction) and the predictees (properties of subsequent items to be predicted). For example, our first study (Altmann & Kamide, 1999) has shown that verbs' selectional restrictions (semantic constraints upon permissible arguments) are used to predict a class of the forthcoming direct object. We have also addressed a wide variety of constraints as candidates for the predictor using the eye-tracking technique. Such information includes: selectional restrictions (especially animacy) on indirect objects, combinatory information extracted from subject and verb, valance (monotransitive verbs vs. ditransitive verbs), valance biases (monotrasitive/ ditransitive-biased optionally ditransitive verbs), pre-sentential context, tense information, referential information, and case-marking information (in Japanese and German- in collaboration with Christoph Scheepers, Saarland). Before coming to York, I also carried out research into various other issues in human sentence processing. My PhD work (with Don Mitchell , Exeter, 1994-1998) looked at first pass parsing (an initial stage of sentence processing), demonstrating resolution processes of structural ambiguities (in English and Japanese). In particular, I was interested in competition processes between argument structure information (grammar-based) and recency constraints (memory-based).

Padraic Monaghan

I am interested in combining experimental, computational, and imaging approaches to study language and the brain. Recent research has focused on normal and impaired reading, with
Richard Shillcock , exploring the constraints that the gross anatomical structure of the brain imposes on language processing. This work has developed to consider hemispheric asymmetries in language processing and age of acquisition effects, with Scott McDonald I have been working on how the meaning of words can be reflected in computational models. We have related semantic priming effects to context-vector approaches to meaning: the meaning of a word is reflected in the contexts in which it can occur.

I have also engaged in artificial language learning research. What are the important factors in learning to segment and generalise in language. I collaborate with Nick Chater, Morten Christiansen, and Luca Onnis on this research.

Kate Nation

A long-standing interest includes children classed as poor comprehenders.  These children decode well but are poor at understanding what they have read.  These difficulties do not seem to be restricted to the processing of written texts.  In work with Maggie Snowling, I have found that these children do not show the same patterns of lexical priming, for example, as children who comprehend 'normally'.  Recently, I have begun monitoring children's eye-movements as they look at a touchscreen on which are shown various objects.  The children are given a sentence such as 'the boy is looking at the moon and the stars' and are instructed to point to any object that is mentioned in the sentence (for example, some stars).  By monitoring their eye-movements and touch times, we can assess the extent to which poor comprehending children differ from other children in respect of the timing with which they integrate the language they hear with the scenes they are looking at.  This work is in collaboration with Catherine Marshall.  My other research interests are described in the
Centre for Reading and Language web pages.

Anne Pier Salverda

I'm currently working as a post-doc with Gerry Altmann, looking (amongst other things) at the influence of concurrent visual context on sentence processing. My other main research interest stems from my PhD research and concerns the recognition of spoken words in continuous speech. I did my PhD at the Max-Planck-Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen (the Netherlands), under the supervision of Delphine Dahan. My research at the MPI was concerned with the influence of prosody on the recognition of spoken words. I am particularly interested in the information in the speech signal that listeners can use to recognize spoken words and in the nature of the representations that mediate this process. For my research, I have used an eye-tracking paradigm, which involves examining listeners' fixations to visually presented objects during the processing of a spoken instruction sentence. During my PhD, I spent some time as a visiting graduate student at the University of Rochester (USA) working in the laboratory of Michael Tanenhaus.

Matt Twyman

My research interests include the implicit learning of artificial grammars, metacognitive measures of implicit knowledge, theories of consciousness and the implicit/explicit distinction, and connectionist modelling. My interest in metacognition began with Masters research into young children's understanding of belief states, my DPhil research was concerned with metacognitive measures of implicit artificial grammar learning, and I am now involved with an investigation of the relationship between artificial grammar and natural language learning.

Anna Weighall

I am research student under the supervision of
Gerry Altmann.  Broadly, my interests are in sentence processing, and the cognitive system that underpins our ability to extract meaning from syntactic structures.   I am particularly interested in the extent to which referential context can be utilised by the parser.   More specifically, I am exploring how syntactic ability develops, and how children abstract meaning 'on-line'.   I am currently using the eye tracking paradigm to investigate children's ability to comprehend relative clause structures.   This research suggests that, with regard to this structure at least, children perform in qualitatively adult manner, and are able to utilise referential context to support their comprehension.   It also suggests that the type of methodology employed can dramatically alter the type of pattern observed.