Iris Berent, professor of psychology

Humans are the only species that talk. Berent focuses on this curious phenomenon, studying the basis of our capacity for language.

Her interdisciplinary research incorporates linguistic theories with state-of-the-art experimental psychology tools and neuroimaging to study a range of people, including infants.

She focuses on the sound structure of words within language—its phonology. All languages weave words from patterns of meaningless elements, and across languages, certain sound sequences, such as blogs, are consistently preferred to others, such as lbogs. She explores why humans are compelled to generate such phonological patterning.

In her lab, Berent shows infants video clips that feature two sound patterns. One pattern is popular across human languages; the other is less frequent. She measures the amount of time infants look at each pattern, which reveals their inherent language-structure preferences.

Berent’s work suggests that the capacity for language is supported by some universal principles that are probably innate. The results will appear in The Phonological Mind (Cambridge University Press) later this fall.