Bodleian Research Uncovered lecture: Professor Pierrehumbert

Bodleian Research Uncovered lecture: Professor Pierrehumbert

Professor of Language Modelling Janet Pierrehumbert recently took part in the Bodleian's Research Uncovered lecture series, talking on the social and cognitive dimensions of the lexicon.

Professor Pierrehumbert's current research at the Centre focuses on how the dynamics of language — in acquisition, processing, or historical change — is related to the structure of linguistic systems. It combines experiments, statistical analyses of large corpora, and computational simulations of linguistic communities. She described her work in large scale text mining and psycholinguistic experiments on 1st November at the Weston Library Lecture Theatre. 

Educated adults know some 100,000 distinct words, and they encounter and create novel words all the time. Only a fraction of all words are used by the entire speech community. Most are associated with particular topics or social groups. As a result, rare and novel words provide an interesting window into the cognitive and social processes that shape lexical systems.

The talk presented examples of both large scale-text mining and psycholinguistic experiments, which are used to investigate the structure and evolution of the lexicon. Professor Pierrehumbert presented a mathematical analysis of the dynamics of words in the archives of USENET discussion groups, selected because they provide data from large numbers of people (10,000 to 100,000 individuals) over long time spans (10 to 20 years). She also talked about some experiments from the Wordovators project. This project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, uses on-line word games in order to collect data about artificial language learning from a large and diverse pool of people. Results reveal individual variation in cognitive style, as well as social influences in games involving two people. These interact to determine general patterns of word formation.