Faculty of Linguistics Wins Second Major Grant

Professor Aditi Lahiri FBA has been awarded — for the second time — an advanced grant by the European Research Council

The project is called: “RESOLVING MORPHO-PHONOLOGICAL ALTERNATION: HISTORICAL, NEUROLINGUISTIC, AND COMPUTATIONAL APPROACHES”

What is it about? Basic words, and complex words derived from them, could share the same form, as in care and care-ful and rare and rar-ity do; but more often they don’t, in English and elsewhere. Think of: serene — seren-ity, sane — san-ity, line — line-ear, wide — wid-th, midwife — midwifery, clean — clean-liness, flower — flor-al, etc.

We call these ’ morpho-phonological alternations’, and the project is investigating them across the world’s languages, their typology, their history, and how difficult it is for speakers to remember and produce them, and for listeners to understand them.

We will be combining theoretical and historical linguistic analysis with neurolinguistic methods (brain imaging) and computational modelling, to answer fundamental questions such as:

  • Why do morpho-phonological alternations exist in the first place and why are they so widespread, even though they could potentially impede language comprehension?
  • How do they develop over the time-course of hundreds of years?
  • How are they represented inside people’s heads and how does the brain process them?
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