Much linguistic research suggests that certain linguistic structures might be systematically preferred across languages. For example, syllables such as lbif are dispreferred to syllables such as bnif. And indeed, bnif-type syllables are more frequent across languages, and languages that tolerate the infrequent lbif-type syllables tend to also allow the bnif-type. While such regularities have long been recognized, their origin remains controversial. Specifically, it is unclear whether those preferences reflect solely the restrictions imposed by our auditory and articulatory systems, or whether they might reflect restrictions that are inherent to the language system itself.
Research in our lab addresses these questions. Our research strategy proceeds in two stages. First, we ask whether speakers of different languages might share similar linguistic preferences, and whether they will extend these preferences even to structures that are unattested in their languages. For example, would speakers of English, Korean and Mandarin all prefer the cross-linguistically pervasive syllable bnif to lbif despite the fact that neither of these syllables is attested in their languages? At a second stage, our research seeks to unveil the source of such common preferences—whether they are due to nonlinguistic factors or linguistic constraints.
Another line of research explores the link between the phonological system and reading. Unlike language, reading is neither natural nor universal—some cultures have it, whereas others don’t; it is acquired only later, and it typically emerges through explicit instruction and practice. But remarkably, almost every writing system invented by humans is based on phonological principles, whereas its decoding—in reading—typically recovers the phonological system in print. Moreover, much research suggests that reading disability is often associated with difficulties in processing the phonological structure of spoken language as well. Our research in reading examines the interaction between reading skill and phonological competence across orthographies and languages.
Students at Northeastern University can sign up to participate in experiments via Psylink. We are also looking for adult participants diagnosed with dyslexia or specific language impairment. Eligible participants can fill our our Dyslexia & SLI Contact Form. At any given time our lab may be looking for participants who are native speakers of Russian, Spanish, or Mandarin Chinese. Eligible participants can fill our our Foreign Language Contact Form.