Unique Strength

The unique strength of the Linguistics Department at KU is the systematic pairing of theoretical and experimental investigations of linguistic knowledge. As such, both our teaching and research focus on language as a cognitive system. We study the underlying rule system inherent in complex phonological, morphological, and grammatical structures of language. We also explore what it means to know a language both as an innate system in the human mind and the maturation of that system within the mind of the individual speaker, exploring similarities and differences in how children and adults acquire linguistic knowledge. The formal study of phonology, morphology, and syntax, for example, provides insight into the structure of language. Phonetic, psycholinguistic, and neurolinguistic research in turn explores how underlying structures influence the actual production and comprehension of language. Our experimental orientation distinguishes us from linguistics departments with a sole emphasis on theoretical linguistics. Moreover, our curriculum emphasizes linguistic diversity as a reflection of human diversity: We teach a variety of “The Structure of ____” courses (recent examples include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Kaqchikel, K’ich’e, Me’phaa, and Quechua). We also offer a Field Methods course, always centered around a native speaker of a language unfamiliar to the students (recent examples include Kaqchikel, Marathi, Quechua, Ibibio, Dza, and Kinyarwanda).

Language Acquisition

Faculty: Robert Fiorentino, Alison Gabriele, Jeff Holliday, Allard Jongman, Jieun Lee, Utako Minai, Stephen Politzer-Ahles, Joan Sereno, Jie Zhang

Research in language acquisition aims to understand the complex processes and mechanisms underlying the acquisition of a first or subsequent language. The goal is to understand how linguistic knowledge is represented in the mind of the learner and how that knowledge develops in the course of acquisition. Our research in both first and second language acquisition examines these questions in a wide variety of languages including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Recent projects at KU include cross-linguistic investigations into the acquisition of syntax and semantics (argument structure, word order, complementation, tense and aspect, voice, wh-movement, quantification), phonology, and phonetics (speech perception and production). Our research employs a range of methods, from longitudinal observation to experimental tasks such as elicited production, interpretation, grammaticality judgment, self-paced reading, eye-movement tracking, Event Related Potential (ERP) and fMRI.

This research is supported by multiple laboratories equipped with psycholinguistic testing rooms and dedicated workstations for transcription and data analysis:

Phonetics and Psycholinguistics Lab

Second Language Acquisition Lab

Neurolinguistics and Language Processing Lab

Developmental Psycholinguistics Lab

In addition, many of our colleagues across campus share research interests in first and second language acquisition.

John Colombo, Psychology and Life Span Institute

Meghan Davidson, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Margarethe McDonald, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Yan Li, East Asian Languages & Cultures

Mabel Rice, Child Language Doctoral Program, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Raúl Rojas, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Kimberly Swanson, French, Francophone, and Italian Studies

Mike Vitevitch, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Nina Vyatkina, Slavic, German, and Eurasian Studies

Morphology and Syntax

Faculty: Phil Duncan, Robert Fiorentino, Alison Gabriele, John Gluckman, Andrew McKenzie, Utako Minai

These research areas center on the speaker’s knowledge of words, phrases, and sentences. Syntax research seeks to understand the nature and interactions of the building blocks of phrase structures. This includes discovering the kinds of abstract structural units that exist and the principles that govern their distribution. Syntacticians are also concerned with how syntactic structures are interpreted by the phonological and semantic modules of the grammar. Morphology concerns the representation of words, and the units of which words are composed, morphemes. Thus, morphologists are interested in the basic properties of morphemes, how they interact with each other, and the ways in which morphemes are accessed and interpreted by syntax and phonology. To an extent, morphology sits at the interface of syntax and phonology. At the same time, morphologists want to understand which principles of morphology are independent of syntax or phonology. At KU, research in syntax and morphology has a strong cross-linguistic component, especially in East Asian, African, and Native American languages. The research is conducted through traditional methods like fieldwork and elicitation and using experimental neurolinguistic techniques such as magnetoencephalography (MEG), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and electroencephalography (EEG).

This research is supported by the Field Linguistics Lab and the KUBantu research group.

Faculty on KU campus who share research interests in morphology and syntax include:

Stephen Dickey, Slavic, German, and Eurasian Studies

Marc Greenberg, Slavic, German, and Eurasian Studies

Renee Perelmutter, Slavic, German, and Eurasian Studies

Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics

Psycholinguistics and Neurolinguistics

Faculty: Robert Fiorentino, Alison Gabriele, Jeff Holliday, Allard Jongman, Jieun Lee, Utako Minai, Stephen Politzer-Ahles, Joan Sereno, Lacey Wade, Jie Zhang

This research area focuses on the access and representation of linguistic knowledge. The research examines how language is processed both at the acoustic perceptual level as well as at higher morphological, lexical and phrasal levels, with a goal of relating these data to specific brain processes.

Research areas span the study of the comprehension and production of language, examining both native listeners/speakers of a language as well as second language learners. The research methods typically used in our labs include a variety of speech perception, speech production, lexical decision, priming, and reading time tasks, as well as brain imaging methods including electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

This research is supported by infrastructure including multiple laboratories in the department, and the MEG and fMRI laboratories at the Hoglund Biomedical Imaging Center.

Colleagues on KU campus that share research interests in psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics include:

Jonathan Brumberg, Psychology

Jeffrey Girard, Psychology

Mike Vitevitch, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Phonetics and Phonology

Faculty: Jeff Holliday, Allard Jongman, Jieun Lee, Stephen Politzer-Ahles, Joan Sereno, Lacey Wade, Jie Zhang

Research in this area is concerned with the processes involved in the comprehension and production of spoken language. This requires a thorough understanding of at least the following three areas: acoustic properties of speech sounds, the relation between phonetic structure and phonological representation, and the interpretation of the speech signal in perception. As a result, research in this area involves the study of the physical characteristics of speech, the phonological structure of language, and the perception of speech as it relates to psycholinguistics and cognition in general.

Much of our research is cross-linguistic and examines phonetic features and the way in which they are mapped onto higher lexical levels. This research can not only provide a detailed acoustic description of phonetic features but can also provide the hierarchical linguistic framework to explain how listeners are able to cope with variability. The faculty in this area also share an interest in lexical tone, ranging from the effects of phonetics and lexical frequency on the productivity of tone sandhi patterns in Chinese dialects to acquisition of tone by learners of Mandarin as an instance of category formation. A newly developed lab in 2024 — the Sociolinguistics Lab — studies how sociophonetic variation informs us about the cognitive structure of language and the mental relationships between linguistic and social knowledge.

Acoustic data are acquired in our anechoic chamber and analyzed in the KU Phonetics and Psycholinguistics Laboratory (KUPPL). Airflow and perception data are also collected in KUPPL. For a detailed description of our state-of-the-art facilities, see KUPPL.

A number of faculty in other departments at KU also share research interests in phonetics and phonology:

Jonathan Brumberg, Psychology

Cynthia Hunter, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Margarethe McDonald, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Panying Rong, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders

Antônio R. M. Simões, Spanish and Portuguese

Kimberly Swanson, French, Francophone, and Italian Studies

Mike Vitevitch, Speech-Language-Hearing: Sciences and Disorders


Research Facilities

The department currently houses 6 research/teaching laboratories. These 6 labs employ a vast array of methods for the collection and analysis of a wide range of linguistic data. The Phonetics and Psycholinguistics Lab, established in 1999, focuses on acoustic, aerodynamic, and perceptual measurements for the experimental study of speech and language, including its production, perception, and acquisition. The Second Language Acquisition Lab, established in 2005, explores the nature of acquisition and processing in adult second language learners, using interpretation, self-paced reading, and speeded grammaticality judgment tasks. The Neurolinguistics and Language Processing Lab, founded in 2006, investigates the cortical representation of language and uses auditory ERP (event-related potentials) as well as lexical decision and priming paradigms. The Developmental Psycholinguistics Lab (2009) investigates how preschool-age children acquire and use the knowledge of meaning in their first language, utilizing linguistic comprehension tasks and the visual-world eye tracking paradigm. The Field Linguistics Lab (2012) is dedicated to linguistic research conducted in collaboration with speakers of native languages in the places where they live and thrive. Our most recent addition, the Sociolinguistics Lab (2024), explores the interaction among social meaning, linguistic variation, and cognition.