Lab Director

Liina Pylkkänen, Ph.D.
Professor of Linguistics and Psychology

The essence of human language is its unbounded combinatory potential: generative systems of syntax and semantics allow for the composition of an infinite range of expressions from a limited set of elementary building blocks. My research aims to characterize the representational and processing properties of this combinatory system. What are its basic computational units and how do they structurally combine?

After completing a substantial body of theoretical work addressing the syntax-semantics interface for a particular subdomain of grammar (the verb phrase), I turned my research focus to characterizing the brain mechanisms responsible for the semantic combinatorics of language. The operations by which our brains build complex meanings from simpler pieces are intimately intertwined with computations building complex syntactic structures. Thus an important goal of my laboratory is to also understand the neural bases of syntactic structure building.

Finally, since complex syntactic and semantic representations are, in some sense, the end product of language comprehension, being able to study them requires an understanding of the lower-level processes leading up to them. Thus in addition to studies directly targeting sentence-level semantics, my research has also addressed word-level processes such as lexical access and morphological decomposition. To monitor brain activity, the work in my lab primarily employs magnetoencephalography (MEG), which offers the best combination of temporal and spatial resolution among currently available cognitive neuroscience methods.

Graduate Students

Adina Williams
Graduate Student, Linguistics

  • Semantics and Syntax
  • Conceptual Processing
  • Semantic Composition
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    Esti Blanco-Elorrieta
    Graduate Student, Psychology

  • Multiligualism and Code Switching
  • Lexical Access and Mental Lexicon
  • Semantic Combinatorics
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    Songhee Kim
    Graduate Student, Linguistics

  • Event Semantics
  • Semantic Composition
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    Maxime Tulling
    Graduate Student, Linguistics

  • Syntax-Semantics-Pragmatics Interface
  • Sentence Final Discourse Particles
  • Processing of Modality
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    Alicia Parrish
    Graduate Student, Linguistics

  • Incremental Parsing
  • Processing of Syntactic Features
  • Nominal Compounds
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    Sarah Phillips
    Graduate Student, Linguistics

  • Bilingualism and Codeswitching
  • Syntax and its Interfaces
  • Language Acquisition/Development
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    Graham Flick
    Graduate Student, Psychology

  • Conceptual representation
  • Semantic composition
  • Neuroimaging data analysis
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    Post-doctoral Researchers

    Samantha Wray
    Post-doctoral Researcher, NYUAD

  • Psycholinguistics
  • Spoken word recognition
  • Semitic languages
  • Natural language processing
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    Shinri Ohta
    Post-doctoral Researcher, NYC

  • Neural basis of morphosyntactic processing
  • Functional/anatomical changes related to language disorders/acquisition
  • Integration of theoretical linguistics and experimental neuroscience
  • Japanese and Mayan languages
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    Jixing Li
    Post-doctoral Researcher, NYUAD

  • Syntactic parsing
  • Semantic composition
  • Computational modeling
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    Student Affiliates

    Suhail Matar
    Student Affiliate

  • Neural basis of language
  • Morphosyntax
  • Middle Eastern and Romance languages
  • Syntactic prediction mechanisms
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    Wesley Leong
    Student Affiliate

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuroscience of Communication
  • Syntax-Semantics Interface
  • Ryan King
    Student Affiliate

  • Cognitive processes that enable language comprehension
  • Long distance dependencies
  • Semantic composition
  • Staff

    Ellie Abrams
    Lab Manager/Research Assistant, NYC

  • Clinical applications of MEG language research
  • Neurobiology of music
  • Computation and cognition
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    Julien Dirani
    Research Assistant, NYUAD

  • Neuroscience of Language
  • Semantics and Syntax
  • Arabic
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    Ryan Law
    Research Assistant, NYUAD

  • Syntactic-Semantic Structure Building
  • Conceptual Representations
  • Predictive Processing
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    Benjamin Lang
    Research Assistant, NYUAD

  • Experimental Phonetics
  • Language Acquisition
  • Multilingualism
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    Esma Mansouri
    Programmer, NYUAD

  • Statistical Algorithms and Data Analysis Software for MEG/EEG Data in MATLAB
  • NoSql Databases for Neuroscience Data
  • Data Visualization
  • Past Members

    Samir Reddigari

    Lab Manager, 2015-2017

    Linmin Zhang

    PhD 2016, Linguistics

    Postdoctoral Researcher

    Concordia University

    Jessica Mow

    Research Assistant, 2015-2016

    Research Assistant

    MGH/Martinos Center

    Christian Brodbeck

    PhD 2016, Psychology

    Postdoctoral Researcher

    University of Maryland

    Amanda Kaczmarek

    Lab Manager, 2014-2015

    PhD Candidate

    UC Santa Barbara Psychology

    Masha Westerlund

    PhD 2015, Psychology

    Research Fellow

    New York Hall of Science

    Kim Leiken

    PhD 2014, Linguistics

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow

    Cincinnati Children's Hospital

    Neurology Division; Psychiatry Division

    Paul Del Prato

    Lab Manager, 2012-2014

    Research Assistant

    NYU Langone Medical Center

    Department of Neurology

    Jayden Ziegler

    MA 2014, Linguistics

    PhD Candidate

    Harvard University Psychology

    Tim Leffel

    Student Affiliate

    Postdoctoral Researcher

    University of Chicago Linguistics

    Miriam Lauter

    Lab Manager, 2013-2014

    Ellen O'Connor

    Visiting Student, 2012-2013

    PhD Candidate

    USC Linguistics

    Doug Bemis

    PhD 2012, Psychology

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow


    Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit

    Sam Ritter

    Lab Programmer, 2012-2013

    PhD Candidate

    Princeton Neuroscience

    Rebecca Egbert

    Lab Manager, 2010-2012

    Francesca Delogu

    Postdoctoral Fellow, 2010-2011

    Postdoctoral Fellow

    Saarland University

    Jonathan Brennan

    PhD 2010, Linguistics

    Assistant Professor

    University of Michigan Linguistics

    Suzanne Dikker

    PhD 2010, Linguistics

    Postdoctoral Fellow

    New York University Psychology

    Hugh Rabagliati

    PhD 2010, Psychology

    Chancellor's Fellow

    University of Edinburgh

    Christine Boylan

    Lab Manager, 2008-2010

    PhD Candidate

    UPenn Psychology

    Andrew Smart

    Lab Manager, 2006-2008

    Research Scientist


    Eytan Zweig

    PhD 2007, Linguistics


    University of York

    Department of Language and Linguistic Science

    Kana Okano

    MA 2007, Psychology

    Postdoctoral Fellow


    Lily Tsoi

    Summer Research Assistant

    Lab Manager

    Boston College

    Jasmine Francis

    NYU Medical School, MD/PhD Program

    Department of Physiology and Neuroscience

    Jesse Harris

    Lab Manager, 2004-2006

    Assistant Professor

    Pomona College Linguistics and Cognitive Science