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The WORDS project started in October 2011 and is generously funded by the ERC. This five year project aims to combine approaches from historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, phonology and computational modelling to examine the abstract representation of words.

In the most general terms, the novel objective of this project is to investigate the abstract nature of the mental phonological representations of words which is claimed to govern the (i) time-course of on-line word-recognition and (ii) the temporal dimension of historical development.

The project will pursue four research questions, where the answers to each call for a dialogue between a variety of disciplines:

  • WHAT is the nature and phonological structure of mental representations of WORDS and HOW are they constrained?
  • HOW are these representations processed and accessed in the course of everyday communication?
  • HOW and WHY do representations change, while sometimes tenaciously remaining constant over time?
  • CAN the hypotheses and predictions about mental representations be computationally modelled?

The PI complements her strong linguistics research profile with her forte in psycholinguistics and neuro-linguistics. The hypothesis we will test is that the abstract representation of words in the adult brain, which handles asymmetric phonological variation in speech and is measurable by reaction time and brain-imaging techniques, is also reflected in the development of words as indicated by historical data from manuscripts.

The WORDS project is supported by the EC within the 7th framework programme under grant agreement no. FP7-IST-269670 (Advanced Investigator's Grant, PI Lahiri).