Research Interests

Why do some sounds in language seem to go along better with certain kinds of things?

As far back as the time of Plato, we have known that some sounds in language just seem like better fits for certain meanings. For example, if I were to tell you that one of these shapes was a maluma and one was a takete…

…which one would you say was which? If you’re like most people, you’d say that maluma is the round one and takete is the jagged one. Why is that? How is it that sounds can seem to go along better with certain shapes? What drives these kinds of associations? This is the main question that I want to answer.

How do those associations affect the way we use language

Given that we associate certain language sounds with certain kinds of things, how does that then affect language, when we put those sounds together to refer to things? We know, for example, that the vowel sound “ee” (like in see, tee, key) seems to inhererntly go better with smaller things. Does that mean words referring to smaller things tend to have this sound in them? How does this affect our interpretation of words that do contain that sound? Is it easier to process a word like teeny (which refers to something little, and contains sounds that go along with littleness) than a word like small (which refers to something little, but doesn’t contain sounds that go along with littleness)?

What role do bodily experiences play in cognition?

For some time, people thought about the human brain like a computer: something that processed information in an entirely abstract manner. But there is more and more evidence accumulating for the fact that bodily experiences play a key role in cognition. One implication of this is that the current state of one’s body, and the things a person is perceiviing at any given moment, can affect their thinking. Another, perhaps more interesting, implication is that the stuff of thought involves imagined bodily experiences. That is, our concept of an apple involves the “simulation” of what it looks, smells and tastes like. I am especially interested in how imagined bodily experience can metaphorically be used to represent abstract thought. For example, studies have shown that we conceptualize time in terms of space, with the future ahead of us and the past behind us.