Language, Learning, and Evolution

I am interested in how multiple cues in language assist the child in acquiring her language - so how phonology, statistics of distributions of words, and environmental cues are combined to help in generating knowledge of words and grammar. Relatedly, I am interested in the properties of languages that assist in learning - because languages change quickly, there is lots of scope for dialects that are easier to learn to be selected over dialects that are harder to learn. I plot the extent to which these learnability properties are embedded within the world's languages.

Reading and the Brain

As a part of the EU Research Training Network in Language and Brain, we have examined the interaction between the brain's anatomy and language processing, in particular the influence of the left and right visual field on reading.

Work in this area has also examined how children learn lexical stress assignment (e.g., how we know to say "giRAFFE" and "ZEbra" when we read these words).

We have also conducted work on impaired language behaviour, including dyslexia and dysphasia, as well as the role of early language exposure on adult lexical processing, investigating how age of acquisition affects the vocabulary.


I have become very interested in the role of sleep for learning. We are currently investigating how sleep may result in problem solving - Kekule's famous discovery of the structure of Benzene during a dream seems to reflect a general truth: sleeping on it really does help. We also study the effects of sleep on language learning - abstraction and generalisation of structure are consequences of sleep after first exposure to a new language structure.