Assistant professor of linguistics Dan Parker has been awarded with a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue to pursue linguistics research at William & Mary. The title of the grant is The Cognitive Basis of Linguistic Illusionsand provides $223,752 funding in total spanning 3.5 years. The grant is funded through the Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences Division of the Linguistics Program at the National Science Foundation.
The primary purpose of the grant is to support Parker’s current research which utilizes experimental and computational methods to uncover how we understand language. The funding will be used specifically to support experiments, pay participants, and acquire new equipment and software necessary to conduct the work proposed in the grant. Parker is excited for an opportunity new to the linguistics department: hiring a student lab manager. Parker mentions, “the funding will also be used to create three new paid research assistantship positions for students at William & Mary … One of the people hired will serve as a lab manager, which is exciting, because we’ve never had a dedicated lab manager to help us keep everything organized and running smoothly. The other two people will be working with me on the proposed research.”
The research outlined in the grant focuses on a phenomenon known as linguistic illusions. Linguistic illusions are cases where speakers systematically misinterpret incoherent or ill-formed sentences as if they were well-formed. Parker mentions that these illusions have gained attention and that the field has some ideas but still not a good account of why they occur. “I hope that the research that comes out of this grant will give a better understanding of why illusions occur in the first place. The ultimate goal is to use the insights from the grant to inform our theories of how language interacts with other cognitive systems, like working memory, and how language is organized in the mind.”
Specifically, Parker mentions “the hypothesis that I’m testing right now is that these illusions are rooted to reflect errors in how we encode and access linguistic representations in working memory as we talk or read. There is a lot of evidence which shows that our memory system is very noisy and prone to error, and my research is testing whether those errors feed the linguistic system resulting in illusions.”
The NSF grant is exciting news for William & Mary linguistics as it will provide an opportunity to utilize new behavioral and modeling techniques that have not been used in the lab before. Parker looks forward to expanding his own experiment repertoire as well as educating students and fellow faculty. “I’m excited that the grant will allow me to work more closely with our students to train the next generation of scientists.”