Psycholinguistics uses experimental methods to investigate the cognitive processes behind language comprehension and production, their development, and the mental representations of linguistic knowledge in children. Research at Penn focuses on adult and child sentence processing and on lexical representation in adults and infants.

Professor John Trueswell is especially interested in understanding how children learn to interpret utterances in real-time. Real-time processing refers to the natural human ability to build an interpretation of each utterance as it unfolds over time. Much of his research focuses on how children learn to organize and use their grammatical knowledge of a language to achieve real-time processing.

David Embick's contributions to neurolinguistics fall into two broad areas. On the one hand, he has been involved in neuroimaging studies employing different techniques to examine aspects of language in the brain. These studies have employed fMRI and MEG to look at syntactic processing and lexical access respectively and have been carried out with Alec Marantz at New York University. The guiding principle of that line of research is the hypothesis that linguistic theories and categories provide a fruitful way of examining the biological basis of language. The second component of Embick's work in cognitive neuroscience looks at the same hypothesis from a complementary perspective, asking how the results of brain imaging and other neurolinguistic studies can be interpreted in terms of a theory of linguistic computation. In a line of work that embraces both perspectives, Embick and David Poeppel of New York University have begun to map out how the findings of modern theoretical work must be used to guide neurolinguistic experimentation if the results of experiments are to be interpretable in any meaningful way.

Robin Clark has been pursuing a line of research that began as an attempt to address the issue of language learnability and is now focused on an explanation of quantifiers and anaphora in terms of game theory. Since it seems likely that processing different types of quantifiers might involve different parts of the brain, Clark is collaborating with Murray Grossman of the School of Medicine to test that hypothesis experimentally.

What's special about language and language learning? Charles Yang's work in this area strives to establish a formal framework in which the representation of linguistic knowledge and the mechanisms of linguistic acquisition can be studied rigorously and quantitatively. Recent work has explored the notion of grammar competition in syntactic acquisition, the constraints and processes in word segmentation and morphological learning. The connection between language learning and other learning processes in cognition and perception is also explored.

Anna Papafragou studies the nature and growth of human language (especially linguistic meaning) across different communities and learners. Papafragou is interested in how ​children learn the meaning of words and sentences in their language, and how they learn to compute pragmatic inferences from the use of language in context. She is also interested in how language relates to other cognitive systems, and whether cross-linguistic differences lead to cognitive differences in both children and adults. To address these questions, Papafragou’s team conducts experiments in the lab, in local daycares and museums, and around the world, including sites in Greece, Germany, Turkey, Korea, China, and indigenous Mayan communities in Mexico.