Research

Click on a subfield to read more about Penn's work in that area

American Sign Language (ASL) is used by deaf communities throughout the United States and parts of Canada. ASL is a naturally formed, complex language that relies on manual and facial expressions.  ASL, like other signed languages from around the world, uses expressive properties to produce language in three dimensions.

Jami Fisher - American Sign Language; Deaf Studies

 

Computational linguistics is a field at the intersection of linguistics and computer science concerned with applying methods from the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning to problems involving language.

Mark Liberman - Phonetics, prosody, natural language processing, speech communication

Mitch Marcus (Computer and Information Science) - Natural language processing, corpus-based and statistical models for NLP

Charles Yang - Language acquisition, language change, computational linguistics, morphology, psycholinguistics

 

Historical linguistics is a subfield of linguistics in which an investigation of the history of languages is used to learn about how languages are related, how languages change, and what languages were like hundreds and even thousands of years ago—even before written records of a language.

Anthony Kroch - Formal syntax, modern and historical German syntax, statistical patterning of syntactic usage

Donald Ringe - Historical linguistics, Indo-European, morphology 

Beatrice Santorini - Syntax, Germanic linguistics, language change

Stephen Tinney (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies) - Sumerian; Mesopotamian language and literature

Charles Yang - Language acquisition, language change, computational linguistics, morphology, psycholinguistics

 

Language is extremely complex, but children already know most of the rules for their native language(s) before five years old, without being explicitly taught. At Penn, the Schuler Laboratory and the Language & Cognition Lab are especially interested in why children seem to be so much better at language learning than adults. We want to find out whether there is something different about the way children learn or the way their brains are organized that makes language learning come naturally to them.

Anna Papafragou - Experimental semantics and pragmatics, language acquisition, language and cognition

Kathryn Schuler - Language acquisition, psycholinguistics

Charles Yang - Language acquisition, language change, computational linguistics, morphology, psycholinguistics

 

Language evolution is the application of evolutionary theory to the study of language. We tend to think of evolution as being mainly a process that affects biological populations, but when it comes to the evolution of language we also need to take cultural evolution into account. The Cultural Evolution of Language Laboratory focuses on how these mechanisms shape language.

Robin Clark - Mathematical linguistics and formal semantics, game theory, acquisition and learnability, formal syntax

Gareth Roberts - Language evolution, language change, language variation, cultural evolution, experimental semiotics, social interaction

 

Morphology can be thought of roughly as the study of the structure of the parts of words, including for instance the nature of affixes. At Penn, morphology research spans into the syntax-morphology interface, in particular with a distributed morphology perspective in which morphology is thought to have the same constituent structures as at the level of syntax. The Embick Laboratory also uses experimental methods to investigate questions about lexical and morphological representation and processing.

Eugene Buckley - Formal phonology, phonology-morphology interaction, phonological explanation, Native American and Ethio-Semitic linguistics

David Embick - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, neurolinguistics

Julie Anne Legate - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, language acquisition

Mark Liberman - Phonetics, prosody, natural language processing, speech communication

Rolf Noyer - Theoretical phonology, morphology, morphosyntax, generative metrics, Huave, Mansi

Donald Ringe - Historical linguistics, Indo-European, morphology

Martin Saltzmann - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, syntax-semantics interface, microvariation

Charles Yang - Language acquisition, language change, computational linguistics, morphology, psycholinguistics

 

Phonetics is the science of speech. It studies the articulation, acoustics, and perception of speech sounds. Our Phonetics Laboratory explores all of these areas.

Mark Liberman - Phonetics, prosody, natural language processing, speech communication

Jianjing Kuang - Multidimensionality of tonal contrasts, phonation, laryngeal articulation across languages, computational modeling, and prosody

 

Phonology is the study of the mental representations of the sound units of language and the rules that govern how mental phonemes are realized in various contexts. Phonology is also concerned with metrical and syllable structure.

Eugene Buckley - Formal phonology, phonology-morphology interaction, phonological explanation, Native American and Ethio-Semitic linguistics

Mark Liberman - Phonetics, prosody, natural language processing, speech communication

Rolf Noyer - Theoretical phonology, morphology, morphosyntax, generative metrics, Huave, Mansi

 

Psycholinguistics uses experimental methods to investigate the cognitive processes behind language comprehension and production, their development, and the mental representations of linguistic knowledge in children. Research at Penn focuses on adult and child sentence processing and on lexical representation in adults and infants.

Delphine Dahan (Psychology) - Psycholinguistics, spoken-language comprehension, lexical representation and processing)

David Embick - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, neurolinguistics

Gareth Roberts - Language evolution, language change, language variation, cultural evolution, experimental semiotics, social interaction

Timothy Roberts - Neurolinguistics; neuroimaging; auditory processing of language; language and autism

Dan Swingley (Psychology) - Psycholinguistics, word recognition and lexical representation in infants and young children

John Trueswell (Psychology) - Language processing, eye movements in reading, visual perception

Charles Yang - Language acquisition, language change, computational linguistics, morphology, psycholinguistics

 

Semantics research is about how the meaning of a sentence is determined from its parts and the way the parts are put together. Semantics at Penn focuses on several new approaches to the field, including LTAG semantics and underspecification as well as the application of game theory. In addition, the Schwarz Laboratory uses eye-tracking and other psycholinguistic methods to investigate natural language meaning in context.

Robin Clark - Mathematical linguistics and formal semantics, game theory, acquisition and learnability, formal syntax

David Embick - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, neurolinguistics

Anthony Kroch - Formal syntax, modern and historical German syntax, statistical patterning of syntactic usage

Martin Saltzmann - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, syntax-semantics interface, microvariation

Florian Schwarz - Formal semantics and pragmatics, semantic and pragmatic processing

Scott Weinstein (Philosophy) - Logic, formal learning theory, machine learning, recursive function theory

Anna Papafragou - Experimental semantics and pragmatics, language acquisition, language and cognition

Sociolinguistics at Penn is led by the Language Variation & Cognition Lab, and focuses on linguistic variation and change in progress. Research in this field looks into the causes of linguistic change, such as social factors and contact with other languages, and has implications for all other subfields.

Nicole Holliday - Sociolinguistics, sociophonetics, identity, ethnicity

Meredith Tamminga - Language variation and change, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics

William Labov (retired) - Sociolinguistics, language change, speech perception and production, research on reading

 

Syntax is the study of the structure of sentences, the principles, both universal and language specific, that govern how words are assembled to yield grammatical sentences. At Penn, most syntactic research focusses on syntactic variation, across languages and over time. 

Robin Clark - Mathematical linguistics and formal semantics, game theory, acquisition and learnability, formal syntax

David Embick - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, neurolinguistics

Anthony Kroch - Formal syntax, modern and historical German syntax, statistical patterning of syntactic usage

Julie Anne Legate - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, language acquisition

Martin Saltzmann - Syntax, morphology, morphology-syntax interface, syntax-semantics interface, microvariation

Beatrice Santorini - Syntax, Germanic linguistics, language change