The Computational Psycholinguistics of Discourse Interpretation

My primary interests center on the three-way interaction between theoretical linguistic, psycholinguistic, and computational linguistic models of discourse interpretation. The problems that are most likely to keep me awake at night include the cognitive mechanisms that underlie the establishment of coherence (both in discourse and more generally), the principles that guide how people interpret (and choose to produce) pronouns and other forms of reference, and the circumstances under which a speaker may chose to elide information and how it could be that such elision could facilitate the hearer's comprehension process rather than hinder it. My current work focuses on developing computational models of discourse, utilizing them as crucial components in theories of these and other linguistic phenomena, and performing psycholinguistic studies to evaluate the psychological plausibility of both. I try to approach my work in a way that advances our understanding of natural language regardless of theoretical persuasion, in a manner that will outlive the details any particular contemporary linguistic theory and that yields insights capable of steering future work in new directions.

A long-term goal of my research is to incorporate the knowledge- and inference-intensive aspects of my theoretical discourse research into empirically-broad, applied computational discourse modeling components that can both be fielded in applications and at the same time feed basic insights back into traditional lines of linguistic research. The current rift in the field between these two lines of research remains formidable, and overcoming it will require significant innovations in both areas -- even paradigm-shifting ones -- in which each is pursued with an eye toward convergence with the other. This field is exciting and wide-open, and I am always interested in hearing from motivated students who are both interested in computational discourse and willing to gain the expertise in linguistics and computer science necessary to make substantial contributions to this area.