My research aims to learn more about how people express and process information at the discourse level, and how this ability develops throughout childhood. Language is an extremely powerful tool to share information. While every utterance we produce and perceive contains information at some level, not all this information contributes to the discourse equally. Factual assertions (like “The king of the Netherlands is a pilot.” add information to a given discourse model and are able to alter a person’s belief state about the actual world (if you didn’t know that the Netherlands is a monarchy for example, you have now learnt that we have a king). Other utterances are not aimed to update the current belief state of the listener, instead they express various levels of information compatible or incompatible with the current world. Modal utterances (like “Maybe the Dutch king flies an airplane right now.”) express possibilities compatible with and uncertainty about the actual world. Other utterances like those containing discourse particles can mark that information is already shared (e.g. “The Dutch king is a pilot, right?”), or can even consider the possibility of something while marking that it’s not true in the current world (counterfactual utterances like “If the United States had a king, he would fly a bigger plane than the Dutch king.”). Interestingly, people are able to differentiate these different types of information at a rapid pace, while making judgments about the speaker’s reliability and intentions, fast enough for them to prepare a response and have fluent conversations. How do we generate and maintain different discourse models? How do we process this information? And how do we learn that utterances can have various discourse contributions and intentions? These are the big questions I touch upon in my research, looking at the syntactic/semantic structure, online processing, neural correlates and development of different linguistic structures. Below are descriptions of my current projects.

Current Projects:

[pyscholinguistics, acquisition, discourse updating, modality, counterfactuality] My dissertation research investigates how children and adults represent factual and non-factual (i.e. modal and counterfactual) information and how these are integrated into the discourse representation.

[acquisition, counterfactuality, corpus, experimental] I am currently investigating the development of the child’s interpretation of counterfactual utterances – contrasting counterfactual wishes and conditionals. Supervised by Ailís Cournane (NYU). If you happen to know a 3-to-6-year-old in the NYC area (and their parents) willing to participate they can sign-up here! The corpus component of this work is published in the Amsterdam Colloquium 2019 proceedings.

[neurolinguistics, modality, belief updating] I investigated the neural correlates of modal versus factual processing with magnetoencephalography (MEG). I found increased activation for factual conditions over modal conditions and relate this activity to discourse belief updating. A preprint of this work is now available here. Supervised by Ailís Cournane (NYU) and Liina Pylkkänen (NYU).

Collaborations: I think collaborations are important, especially when working on the interfaces. Currently I’m involved in the following collaborative projects:

[neurolinguistics, acquisition, discourse comprehension] With Suhail Matar (NYU) and the Kidlang team under supervision of Liina Pylkkänen (NYU) we investigate the neural bases of naturalistic expository discourse processing in children and adults.

[acquisition, modality, negation, eyetracking] With Ailís Cournane (NYU) and Vishal Arvindam (UCSC) we are currently collecting data for an eye-tracking experiment to investigate 2-years-old’s understanding of the modal utterance maybe and negation. If you happen to know a 2-year-old in the NYC area (and their parents) willing to participate they can sign-up here. This work is presented as a poster at LSA 2020 and CUNY 2020.

[acquisition, modality, corpus] With Annemarie van Dooren (UMD) we investigated the distributional cues available in Dutch children’s input to learn different flavors of modality. A report of our study can be found in the BUCLD 2019 proceedings. This study falls within the research project ‘Acquiring the language of possibility’ supervised by Ailís Cournane (NYU) and Valentine Hacquard (UMD).

[prosody, sentence final particles] With Roger Lo (UBC) and Angelika Kíss (University of Torronto) we are investigating the prosodic properties and perception of different types of rhetorical questions in Cantonese and the contribution of the final discourse particles aa1 and aa3. A proceedings article of this work can be found in the IPCHS 2019 proceedings.

[experimental syntax, sentence final particles] In collaborative work with Paloma Jeretič (NYU), we investigate the combinatory constraints of elements appearing in the left periphery, and the role intersubjectivity could play in this. Our work was presented as a poster at the LSA conference 2019. Currently we are working to extend this project to Cantonese and look at the combinatory restrictions of Cantonese sentence final particles.