I work on lexical semantics (word meaning), compositional semantics (sentence meaning), pragmatics (inferences drawn in context), and sociolinguistics (how people use language in their social identity) 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.

Attributive versus predicative adjectives (work in progress!)

Adjectives can be attributive (the adorable/red dress) or predicative (the dress is red/adorable). Which adjectives tend to go which way and why, and what can this tell us about how different adjectives relate to the Common Ground of a conversation?

Relational nouns in corpora 

Some nouns are said to be "relational" (cousin relates one individual to another), others "sortal" (tree just picks out individuals). How can we quantify this distinction in a corpus to explore which nouns are more or less relational and why?

Computational modeling of the internal structure of events (ongoing project with Aaron Steven White, Scott Grimm, and Will Gantt).

Funded by National Science Foundation Collaborative Research Grant BCS-2040820 (PI: Aaron White), we are annotating descriptions of events in text for various inferences that a human would draw from reading about that event. We are training models to generalize these annotations to new data and using the annotations to explore questions about verb meaning from theoretical lexical semantics.


Why does the verb cause prefer negative-sentiment objects (cause failure, cause damage)?


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)?

Vowels in Georgia!

Synchronic and diachronic study of the vowel systems (accents) in Georgia.

Joint work with Jon Forrest (all of it) as well as Joey Stanley and Margaret Renwick (the diachronic portion), with the assistance of my Vertically Integrated Project team at Georgia Tech (with particular thanks to Madison Liotta, Madelyn Scandlen, and Marcus Ma).

Presenting my work on causation as the plenary talk at LCUGA (Linguistics Conference at UGA, 2021). Photo by Madleyn Scandlen.