Research Fields

The Linguistics Department's primary areas of interest lie strongly in grammatical theory, which can be broken down roughly into syntax, phonology, and semantics. Individual faculty members also specialize in phonetics, sociolinguistics, computational linguistics, and second language acquisition theory. Other faculty interests include research into the history of linguistics as an academic discipline, mathematical linguistics, and language typology.

Languages of faculty research include Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Jamaican Creole, Arabic, Siswati, Sandawe, Cherokee, Swahili, Slavic languages, Austronesian languages of Taiwan, the Athabaskan languages, and Sahaptin. Information is also available about the interests of individual faculty members.

In addition, the department often collaborates with other departments such as Speech and Hearing Sciences, Anthropology, Philosophy, Psychology, and Computer Science to expand its course offerings.

Our primary areas of research interest are described below, in alphabetical order.

The department is currently building up a program in computational linguistics. Current areas of interest include grammar engineering, building computational tools for the documentation of underdescribed languages, and Natural Language Processing in general. UW linguistics students also have opportunities to work with faculty in EE, CS and the Information School on research in machine translation, speech recognition, and biomedical informatics, among others.

Language acquisition researchers at UW Linguistics investigate how children acquire linguistic structures of their native language(s). We aim to shed light on a) how language experience, learning biases and cognitive maturation interact in the course of grammatical development, and b) how children learn to use their knowledge in real-time comprehension and production. To this end, we investigate children's linguistic knowledge as well as use of that knowledge through a variety of behavioral tasks and eye-tracking technique, as well as cross-linguistic comparisons.

We are interested in a broad range of theoretical and practical issues in articulatory and acoustic phonetics. Some issues include speech perception and spoken word processing, gestural timing, and the role of phonetic explanation in phonological theory. Other phonetic research include acoustic and articulatory description of spoken language.

The Department's phonologists concern themselves with aspects of modern generative phonology. Of primary interest is the phonology-morphology interface as characterized by prosodic morphology and lexical phonology, as well as the phonology-syntax interface and theories of phonological change over time. Faculty interests also include research in metrical phonology, feature geometry, and the phonetics-phonology interface.

Faculty members research the cognitive mechanisms underlying the acquisition of second language. Questions taken on include whether second language acquisition parallels first in crucial ways, and the extent to which it is governed by principles of universal grammar.

We are mainly concerned with formal semantics, which analyzes the semantics of natural language in terms of mathematical concepts such as set and function. Also of interest are such topics as the relation between syntax and semantics, the semantics of non-European languages, and the relation between formal semantics and so-called lexical semantics.

Language comprehension and production is often fast, accurate and effortless, despite the fact that it requires listeners and speakers to assign rich linguistic representations in a few hundred milliseconds. Psycholinguists at UW Linguistics investigate how language processing mechanisms compute rich syntactic representations in real-time comprehension, and how this process is supported by cognitive mechanisms such as working memory and executive function. One unique feature of the UW sentence processing group is the emphasis on the developmental approach: developmental changes in sentence processing could reveal core properties of adult sentence processing mechanisms that may not be readily observable in adults' efficient processing systems.

We are interested in a broad range of issues pertaining to language in society, particularly social variation in the grammars and lexicons of languages and dialects. Faculty also study nonstandard language, diglossia, pidgins and creoles, and gender differences in speech.

Several faculty members in the Department work in the area of syntactic theory. All such research takes place within the generative tradition, which, broadly characterized, sees grammars as formal cognitive systems. In addition to syntax per se, UW linguists have made many contributions to the understanding of the interface between syntax and other levels of grammar, in particular phonology, morphology, semantics, and discourse.