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Faculty highlight: Ellen Lau

Ellen Lau is a new Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics, specializing in the cognitive neuroscience of language. In her research Ellen uses measures of brain activity such as EEG, MEG, and fMRI to develop better theories of language processing and its neural instantiation. One recent focus of her work is investigating the mechanisms by which readers and listeners use expectations to guide language comprehension. Speakers of a language possess a vast knowledge of deterministic and probabilistic constraints on the input - for example, that an adjective cannot be followed by a verb, that the object of "eat" is likely to name some kind of food, and that a male voice is unlikely to utter the phrase "I'm pregnant". In the face of a signal that is often noisy and ambiguous, proactively using this kind of knowledge to predict the upcoming input may be critical for rapid, accurate, and efficient language processing. Ellen uses the fine-grained temporal and spatial resolution provided by these neuroimaging measures to explore what kinds of linguistic knowledge contribute to expectations in comprehension and how these expectations are implemented in real-time processing.