Research statement

My research to date has focused on three questions about the interface of phonology with variation, morphology, and phonetics. I have pursued these questions with laboratory techniques and quantitative analysis. In much of my work, I have tackled problems in linguistics by adapting experimental paradigms from the discipline of cognitive psychology.

Variation. The first question is, what is the impact of surface variation on our mental representations of words? American English speakers, for example, can say either cat or ca[ʔ], while many Spanish speakers can say either busto or bu[h]to ‘chest’. Previous work has focused primarily either on the conditioning factors for variation, or on how listeners recognize reduced variants. The new contribution of my research, on both English and Spanish, is to show that listeners respond differently to such words not only when they are reduced, but even when they are pronounced in their canonical forms. To demonstrate this, I have used the false memory paradigm, a technique that allowed me to quantify lexical activation while avoiding some shortcomings of more traditional techniques, such as priming.

Morphological structure. The second question is, what impact does morphological structure exert on our perception of spoken words? Previous work on this question relies heavily on reaction times. In my research, I have aimed to create a richer characterization of the word recognition process by probing listeners’ subjective perceptual experiences, using both false memory paradigms and noise-rating tasks. My results, again for both English and Spanish, show that morphological constituents such as prefixes, roots, and suffixes act as cognitive variables that directly modulate the clarity with which listeners perceive speech input.

Phonetic structure. The third question is, how should we analyze categorical versus gradient differences in phonetic duration? I have pursued this question primarily by analyzing speech production data, in both English and Hungarian. For example, I have investigated how two-part segments such as diphthongs and affricates “warp” under lengthening, and how vowel-consonant co-articulation is modulated by lengthening environments such as contrastive focus and phrase edges. I have also pursued this question in the perceptual domain by analyzing eye movements; with collaborator Delphine Dahan, I showed that listeners are sensitive to the gestural origins of diphthong lengthening.