I work on lexical semantics (word meaning), compositional semantics (sentence meaning), and pragmatics (inferences drawn in context) from a rich empirical perspective, using corpus data and experiments. I am particularly interested in how our knowledge of the (physical, social) world affects our interpretation of language.

Object omission

Which normally-transitive verbs appear without objects ("Alice ate __") to what extent, and why?


Which predicates are understood distributively (true of each member of a plural subject), nondistributively (true of a plural subject but not each member), or in both ways - and why?

Mandarin 'yiwei' 以为 -- a negatively biased belief verb

This verb strongly suggests that the belief it embeds is false. Where does this sense of negative bias come from, semantically or pragmatically?

Compounds (with Beth Levin and Dan Jurafsky)

Exactly how does world knowledge help us identify the relationship between the two words (head and modifier) in a compound like "water carafe" or "water spinach"? How does the nature of the referent (in particular, whether it is an artifact like "carafe" or a natural kind like "spinach") influence the head-modifier relationship?

Determiner + Adjective

How do we derive the two distinct uses of Det+Adjective, as in "the cute are given more attention by teachers" (cute people) vs. "the cute is the dominant aesthetic in Japan" (cuteness)?

Here are some photos of the "mass" reading of Determiner + Adjective in action! (A visual complement to the corpus data in my paper.)

  • I mention these when I lecture about morphology, as well as language & advertising! (Why do advertisers like this construction so much?)