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I am a graduate student in Linguistics and Cognitive Science currently in the first year of my Ph.D at Johns Hopkins. Previously I was an Ertegun Scholar at the University of Oxford. My research focuses on formal models of the semantic component of the language faculty: What representations does the mind construct of the meanings of sentences? Given any well-formed input, what algorithm does the mind implement for constructing these representations? How is the mapping from string to meaning learned by a language user? I especially like using computational methods to answer these questions.

Welcome to my home page. This site is a work in progress, but on it you can find some information about me, my research, and some things I'm enthusiastic about.

What is Cognitive Science?

Cognitive Science is the study of the mind through the analysis of the behavior that it leads to, typically carried out at a higher level of abstraction than the study of the brain. The mind/brain is typically thought of as a kind of computer--an object receiving inputs, operating over them according to a set of rules, and resulting in an output, which is the observed behavior. And just like a computer, it can be described at various levels of abstraction--e.g. at the level of "software" versus "hardware". Cognitive Science focuses primarily on the "software" level, which means, in practice, specifying a system of computations capable of giving rise to the rich behavior we observe.

Linguistics and Cognitive Science

Linguistics is often assumed to be concerned either with personal learning of many languages, detailed study of the grammar of some specific language, or the study of effective pedagogical techniques for language learning. While each of these is partially within the scope of this quite diverse field, the core of the discipline today is concerned with the nature of a mental system, computational in the sense discussed above, that explains the remarkable capacity of humans to naturally, effortlessly, and with little variation in ability, learn a language.

These facts about linguistic ability make language in many ways analogous to walking on two legs. Every human born with the physical prerequisites learns to walk, and most receive minimal explicit training in how to do it. The reason we learn to walk is that we have an innate "walking faculty" that, nourished with the right kind of experience, leads to a mature system in which we walk on two legs without any conscious effort. Incidentally, it has been shown that even systems like the visual system (warning: potentially nauseating experimental techniques) that seem at a superficial level to implicate mainly physiological receptors, can be permanently prevented from developing neurally if appropriate stimuli are withheld during crucial periods of development. Language functions much the same way.