Main CaLL
Current Research


Research Interests

It is clear that language is central to human communication. The words and sentences we choose are important for imparting our ideas, beliefs, commands, and opinions to others. Language is typically studied in terms of the words and sentences we choose; however, there are other aspects of language that are at least as important. These fall into the category of not what we say but how we say it. This aspect of language is called prosody. It includes the stress, pitch, rhythm, and intonation of language. Although communication is possible when prosody is absent, as in email or in texts, communication is more challenging. A brief response in an email might be interpreted as curtness rather than the result of the author being in a hurry. An ironic response in a text message might sound like biting sarcasm without the accompanying prosodic information.

Despite its importance, we know very little about the structure of prosody, the cognitive processes that are deployed in constructing it, or how it is interpreted. Understanding prosody is critical for building speech systems, designing interventions for individuals with communication disorders, and in developing pedagogical strategies for people learning English as a second language. A psychological theory of prosody could also answer a very basic question about communication: What makes certain ways of speaking more effective than others for listeners?

The Communication and Language Lab has focused on developing theories of prosody as a way to better understand the cognitive mechanisms that underlie language use, and cognition more generally. By understanding how prosody organizes linguistic information for the listener, we can better understand the underlying architecture of the language comprehension system and also gain insight into the mechanisms that underlie language production.

Current Research

Eun-Kyung Lee - Prosody and Syntactic Structure

My research interest is in how prosody interacts with other levels of linguistic representation including syntax and discourse structure. I've been investigating whether different components of prosody, prosodic boundaries and pitch accents, are used differently in syntactic processing and whether individual differences exist in the use of prosodic boundary information in syntactic ambiguity resolution. My current research focuses on how listeners deal with variability across speakers when integrating prosodic boundary information to resolve syntactic ambiguity during language comprehension. I am also conducting research on the interface between prosody and information structure.

Tuan Lam - Prosodic Prominence and Perspective Taking

My research focuses on prosodic prominence in speech production. Prominence refers to how much a word stands out acoustically compared to the rest of an utterance. In particular I am interested in how contextual factors affect prominence. For example, prior mention of a word by the same speaker leads to a reduction in word duration whereas prior mention by a different speaker (via grounding) leads to a reduction in intensity. My other main focus is on determining where in the production system these effects arise. For example, repetition reduction can occur because the message was previously mentioned, or because the word form was previously used. My recent work suggests that the reduction occurs mainly due to repetition of the word form. Read more about Tuan's research

Scott Fraundorf - Disfluencies, Memory, and Prominence

Memory and Language

What's the best way to speak (or write) if you want to be remembered? What sentence structure and manner of speech should you use, and what information should you present when? Most theories of language comprehension have focused only on how we first make sense of what we hear and read. We are extending these theories to examine the interaction of language with memory -- how do the linguistic devices we use affect what our audience remembers, and vice versa?


When we speak, we often encounter problems like saying "uh" and "um," repeating words we have already said, or interrupting ourselves to correct something we said previously. Although these are different types of disfluencies, we currently do not know much about how these types are the same or different from one another. Our research (a) explores how various kinds of disfluencies differ and how they may reflect different problems or processes in language production, and (b) examines how listeners comprehend speech that is disfluent. Read more about Scott's research