Syntactic priming is a behavioural phenomenon whereby speakers are more likely to repeat a syntactic, or grammatical, structure if they have recently processed a sentence of the same structure. The magnitude of syntactic priming can be used to gain insight into the nature of a speaker’s linguistic representations, as we discuss in more detail in this published commentary. I have used the syntactic priming paradigm to examine syntactic representations in young children, whose language skills are still developing, and older adults, who are experienced language users but who may be experiencing changes in the way syntax is processed in the brain. In this study, we found that syntactic priming and the related phenomenon of lexical boost (repetition of verb enhances the priming effect) were preserved in old age. In this study, we found that both young and older adults' syntactic choices were determined by repetition of global, not internal, syntactic structure. In my current job as a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick, I am using the syntactic priming paradigm to investigate how children learn different grammatical structures and what influences their syntactic choices - the study is preregistered here on the OSF.
The focus of my PhD research at the University of Birmingham was on the effect of old age on sentence production. Some aspects of language processing appear to be more negatively affected by ageing that others and I am interested in whether the way we plan and produce sentences changes with old age. To examine this, I have conducted multiple studies in which I measure speech onset latencies in young and older adults when producing different sentence types: the time a speaker takes to begin sentence is informative about underlying sentence planning processes. In this study and in this study, we found that, while syntactic planning scope appears to be relatively unaffected by old age, there is an age-related decline in the integration of lexical items into syntactic structures and the management of the temporal flow of lexical information during sentence production.
Successful language processing involves the binding of multiple words into larger syntactic structures (or sentences) with more complex meaning. This is essential for the expressive power of human language, and we are interested in the neural processes that support syntactic binding. To examine this, we are conducting a studying using magnetoencephalography (MEG) in which we measure participants' neural responses (specifically, the magnetic fields produced by electric signals in the brain) when processing different types of sentences. Prior to beginning data collection, we pre-registered this study on the Open Science Framework.
Learning a second language is a often challenge as a speaker must learn new words and grammatical rules (i.e., how to order words together into a coherent sentence). In my current Research Fellow position, I am investigated how adult bilingual speakers learn different syntactic structures, and what strategies low and high proficiency speakers employ when choosing which syntactic structure to use in a dialogue setting (see pregisteration here). In a collaboration with researchers at the University of Agder, Norway, I am also investigating how bilingual speakers plan sentences in their second language.