Get to Know Your Instructors: Emily Morgan

Emily Morgan from the Linguistics faculty at UC Davis will be teaching the Computational Psycholinguistics course at the 2019 Institute. Here is an interview with Professor Morgan.

Can you please tell us about your linguistic background?

I discovered linguistics as an undergraduate. I was a math major, but I took a developmental psychology class and was particularly interested in the section on language development. After that I sought out more linguistics and cognitive science courses and research opportunities. Given my background in math and computer science, it was a natural fit to approach linguistics from a computational perspective. I did my PhD in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at UC San Diego. My research combines experimental psycholinguistic methods with computational modeling as a way to formalize and test theories of language processing.

When did you first join the LSA?

I first joined in 2014 when I attended the LSA Annual Meeting as a graduate student.

Can you tell us about the course you are teaching at the Institute?

My Computational Psycholinguistics course will focus on how computational models can help us unify and make sense of theories of language processing. We’ll address psycholinguistic phenomena at a variety of levels, from phonemes to sentences and discourses, where computational models have given us new insights into how the language processing system operates and why. It won’t require a lot of programming; rather than focusing on how to implement the models, we’ll focus on the statistical principles underlying them, and how those translate back into theories of human language processing.

What research are you currently working on?

My research asks how speakers store their previous language experience, and how they use those stored representations to form expectations about future experience. For example, when a speaker encounters a highly frequent phrase such as “bread and butter”, is this phrase represented and processed holistically as a single unit, or compositionally as a conjunction of nouns? Is the form of this representation influenced by the frequency of the expression (compared to a less frequent expression like “facts and techniques”) or its frozenness in a given order (compared to a more flexible expression like “boys and girls”/”girls and boys”)?

What is unique about Davis?/What do you like about Davis?

One of the great things about Davis is the diversity of approaches that people are pursuing in the study of language. In addition to the traditional study of linguistic structure, researchers are studying language through behavioral experiments and neuroscience, through computational approaches, through the lens of multilingualism, etc.

What advice would you give to graduate students interested in pursuing a career in linguistics?

I recommend all graduate students in linguistics pick up some basic programming and statistics skills. The field is increasingly interested in empirical research, and even students whose primary areas of study are theoretical will find these quantitative skills helpful, whether organizing and searching a corpus of field notes, running statistics on an acceptability judgment experiment, or just being an informed consumer of the current literature in the field.

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