Daphna Heller

Research interests at a glance:

  • Psycholinguistics, specifically sentence processing in adults.
  • Experimental semantics and pragmatics.
  • Reference and referential processing.
  • Adjectives and other nominal modifiers.

One fascinating fact about natural language is that a certain object can be referred to with many different expressions. A granny smith apple, for example, might be called an apple, the big apple, my favorite fruit, or what I ate earlier. The label assigned to a particular object is chosen by the speaker in a particular situation based on many factors, including the properties of the object itself, what other objects are around, what is known to others in the conversation and what message the speaker wishes to convey. I am interested in how speakers weigh the different considerations in choosing a referring expression, and how listeners use a referring expression to find the intended object. I am also interested in how the linguistic labels used affect our representation of the world beyond language. The core of my research examines reference production and comprehension by looking at language processing in real time, but I also investigate how the meaning of referring expressions is to be represented in formal models of semantics and pragmatics.