Computational Psycholinguistics

Psych/CogSci 4280/6280 - Ling 4428/6628
Fall Semester 2015
205 Uris Hall
Tuesdays, 1:25-4PM
Instructor: Dr. Morten H. Christiansen

Computational methods have become increasingly important to the study of the psychology of language as a way of gaining insights into the psychological processes involved in language acquisition, processing and evolution. They provide rigorous tools for testing and exploring specific hypotheses about the nature of language and its psychological underpinnings. As such, computational psycholinguistics has already had a far-reaching impact on language research.

In this course, we survey the state of the art in computational psycholinguistics, ranging from corpus analyses of child-directed speech, dialogues and online interactions, to Bayesian, connectionist and phylogenetic models of language. An important focus of discussion will be the various methodological and theoretical issues relating to the use of computational tools to understand the psychology of language.

The seminar will feature guest lectures from Dr. Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil from the Department of Information Sciences.

Dr. Christiansen has worked extensively with computational approaches to language evolution, acquisition, and processing, including editing volumes on Connectionist Psycholinguistics, Language Evolution, Language Universals, and Cultural Evolution. An authored book Creating Language: Integrating Evolution, Acquisition and Processing (with Nick Chater) will soon appear from MIT Press.

Learning Goals: To provide a comprehensive introduction to questions, theories, and research in computational psycholinguistics. At the end of this seminar, students are expected to be able to think critically about research and theories related to computational approaches to psycholinguistic phenomena.

Course Requirements


Complete ALL assigned readings.


Lead discussion on one or more occasions (the exact number will depend on number students registered for the class). Joint presentations are acceptable.


Discussion leaders should only briefly summarize the reading(s). The leader should assume that everyone has read the reading(s), and does not need to have it repeated in great detail. The discussion should focus on your elaborations of the reading(s). This involves clarifying the reading(s) (guided in part by questions submitted by other class members), critiquing the research, and including other material/viewpoints from additional articles.


Formulate at least one question for each assigned reading, for a total of three questions for the day's discussion leader. These are to be submitted by email to the presenter before 10:00AM on Monday before class. A copy of the questions must also be emailed to the instructor (


Participate in the discussions. Grades will in part be based on discussion participation. Sitting silently through every class is NOT acceptable.


Write a final 15-20-page (4280/4428) or 25-30-page (6280/6628) double-spaced paper focusing on several of the topics discussed in class. This paper will require some research, and must include additional articles not discussed in class. A one-page synopsis outlining a proposed paper must be submitted to the instructor at the start of class November 10. The final paper is due no later than December 11 before 4:30PM.


Grades will be based on class presentations, discussion participation, email questions, and the final paper.

Class presentation


Discussion participation


Email questions


Final paper


Academic Integrity

Each student in this courser is expected to abide by the Cornell University Code of Academic Integrity. Any work submitted by a student in this course for academic credit will be the student's own work. For this course, collaboration is allowed in the following instances: Leading discussions. Failure to adhere to the Code of Academic Integrity will result in an F in the course.

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Seminar Outline

* indicates extra readings for presenters and 6280/6628 students





Week 1


Organizational Meeting

Week 2


Psycholinguistics and computational modeling

Presenter: Morten Christiansen

Bernstein Ratner et al. (1998)

Chater & Christiansen (2008)

Week 3



Presenters: Caile Collins and Fred Callaway

Phillips & Pearl (2015)

Baayen et al. (in press)

*French & Cottrell (2014)

Week 4


No class

Week 5


Word learning

Presenters: Stephan Bae, Erin Isbilen, and Arash Aryani

McMurray et al. (2012)

Hills et al. (2009)

*Monaghan et al. (2011)

Week 6


Semantic representations

Presenters: Rebecca Dorety and Shohini Bhattasali

Blouw et al. (2015)

Xu et al. (2015)

*Youn et al. (2015)

Week 7


Zipf's law

Presenters: Caile Collins and Joseph Fridman

Piantadosi (2014)

Ferrer-i-Cancho et al. (2013)

*Pine et al. (2013)



Fall Break


Week 8



Presenters: Hamid Turker and Erin Isbilen

Jones (2015)

McCauley & Christiansen (2014a)

*Kol et al. (2014)

Week 9


Politeness and the linguistic change in online communities

Presenter: Dr. Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil

Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil et al. (2013a)

Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil et al. (2013b)

*Niculae et al. (2015)

Week 10


Acquisition of morphology

Presenters: Stephan Bae and Rebecca Dorety

Xanthos et al. (2012)

Mirkovic et al. (2011)

*Aguado-Orea & Pine (2015)

Week 11


Sentence processing

Presenters: Jixing Li and Shohini Bhattasali

1-page synopsis due

Johns & Jones (2015)

Frank & Bod (2011)

*McCauley & Christiansen (2014b)

Week 12



Presenters: Yanyu Long, Jixing Li, and Hamid Turker

Dell et al. (2013)

Montag & MacDonald (2015)

*Arnon & Cohen-Priva (2013)

Week 13



Presenters: Joseph Fridman and Yanyu Long

Fusaroli & Tylen (2015)

Abney et al. (2014)

*Healey et al. (2014)

Week 14



Presenters: Arash Aryani and Fred Callaway

Kirby et al. (2015)

Baronchelli et al. (2012)

*Grouchy et al. (2015)



Final paper due (before 4:30PM)

Note: Changes may be made to the readings and their order but this will be announced in class and on this course web page.

Click here for a PDF version of the course syllabus.

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Abney, D. H., Paxton, A., Dale, R., & Kello, C. T. (2014). Complexity matching in dyadic conversation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 2304-2315.

*Aguado-Orea, J. & Pine, J.M. (2015). Comparing different models of the development of verb inflection in early child Spanish. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0119613.

*Arnon, I., & Cohen Priva, U. (2013). More than words: The effect of multi-word frequency and constituency on phonetic duration. Language and Speech, 56, 349-371.

Baayen, R. H., Shaoul, C., Willits, J. and Ramscar, M. (in press). Comprehension without segmentation: A proof of concept with naive discrimination learning. Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience.

Baronchelli, A., Chater, N., Pastor-Satorras, R. & Christiansen, M.H. (2012). The biological origin of linguistic diversity. PLoS ONE, 7(10): e48029.

Bernstein Ratner, N., Berko Gleason, J. & Narasimhan, B. (1998). Introduction to psycholinguistics: What do language users know? In J. Berko Gleason & N. Bernstein Ratner (Eds.), Psycholinguistics (2nd ed., pp. 1-40). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace.

Blouw, P., Solodkin, E., Thagard, P., & Eliasmith, C. (2015). Concepts as semantic pointers: A framework and computational model. Cognitive Science.

Chater, N. & Christiansen, M.H. (2008). Computational models in psycholinguistics. In R. Sun (Ed.), Cambridge Handbook of Computational Cognitive Modeling (pp. 477-504). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, C., Sudhof, M., Jurafsky, D., Leskovec, J., & Potts, C. (2013a). A computational approach to politeness with application to social factors. arXiv preprint arXiv:1306.6078.

Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, C., West, R., Jurafsky, D., Leskovec, J., & Potts, C. (2013b). No country for old members: User lifecycle and linguistic change in online communities. In Proceedings of the 22nd international conference on World Wide Web (pp. 307-318). International World Wide Web Conferences Steering Committee.

Dell, G. S., Schwartz, M. F., Nozari, N., Faseyitan, O., & Coslett, H. B. (2013). Voxel-based lesion-parameter mapping: Identifying the neural correlates of a computational model of word production. Cognition, 128, 380-396.

Ferrer-i-Cancho, R., Hernández-Fernández, A., Lusseau, D., Agoramoorthy, G., Hsu, M. J. & Semple, S. (2013). Compression as a universal principle of animal behavior. Cognitive Science, 37, 1565-1578.

Frank, S.L. & Bod, R. (2011). Insensitivity of the human sentence-processing system to hierarchical structure. Psychological Science, 22, 829-834.

*French, R. & Cottrell, G.W. (2014) TRACX 2.0: A memory-based, biologically-plausible model of sequence segmentation and chunk extraction. In Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Fusaroli, R., & Tylén, K. (2015). Investigating conversational dynamics: Interactive alignment, Interpersonal synergy, and collective task performance. Cognitive science.

*Grouchy, P.E., D'Eleuterio, G.M.T, Lipson, H. & Christiansen, M.H. (2015). The evolutionary origin of symbolic communication. Submitted manuscript.

*Healey, P.G.T., Purver, M. & Howes, C. (2014). Divergence in dialogue. PLoS ONE 9(6): e98598.

Hills, T. T., Maouene, M., Maouene, J., Sheya, A., & Smith, L. (2009). Longitudinal analysis of early semantic networks: Preferential attachment or preferential acquisition?. Psychological Science, 20, 729-739.

Johns, B. T., & Jones, M. N. (2015). Generating structure from experience: A retrieval-based model of language processing. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Jones, G. (2015). The influence of children's exposure to language from two to six years: The case of nonword repetition. Submitted manuscript.

Kirby, S., Tamariz, M., Cornish, H., & Smith, K. (2015). Compression and communication in the cultural evolution of linguistic structure. Cognition, 141, 87-102.

*Kol, S., Nir, B., & Wintner, S. (2014). Computational evaluation of the Traceback Method. Journal of child language, 41, 176-199.

McCauley, S.M. & Christiansen, M.H. (2014a). Acquiring formulaic language: A computational model. Mental Lexicon, 9, 419-436.

*McCauley, S.M. & Christiansen, M.H. (2014b). Prospects for usage-based computational models of grammatical development: Argument structure and semantic roles. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 5, 489-499.

McMurray, B., Horst, J. S., & Samuelson, L. K. (2012). Word learning emerges from the interaction of online referent selection and slow associative learning. Psychological Review, 119, 831-877.

Mirković, J., Seidenberg, M. S., & Joanisse, M. F. (2011). Rules versus statistics: Insights from a highly inflected language. Cognitive Science, 35, 638-681.

*Monaghan, P., Christiansen, M.H. & Fitneva, S.A. (2011). The arbitrariness of the sign: Learning advantages from the structure of the vocabulary. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 140, 325-347.

Montag, J. L., & MacDonald, M. C. (2015). Text exposure predicts spoken production of complex sentences in 8-and 12-year-old children and adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144, 447-468.

*Niculae, V., Kumar, S., Boyd-Graber, J., & Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, C. (2015). Linguistic harbingers of betrayal: A case study on an online strategy game. arXiv preprint:1506.04744.

Phillips, L. & Pearl, L. (2015). Utility-based evaluation metrics for models of language acquisition: A look at speech segmentation. Workshop on Cognitive Modeling and Computational Linguistics 2015, NAACL.

Piantadosi, S. T. (2014). Zipf's word frequency law in natural language: A critical review and future directions. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 21, 1112-1130.

*Pine, J. M., Freudenthal, D., Krajewski, G., & Gobet, F. (2013). Do young children have adult-like syntactic categories? Zipf's law and the case of the determiner. Cognition, 127, 345-360.

Xanthos, A., Lahaa, S., Gillis, S., Stefany, U., Aksu-Koc, A., Christofidou, A., Gagarina, N., Hrzica, G., Nihan Ketrez, F., Kilani-Schoch, M., Korecky-Kroll, K., Kovacevic, M., Laalo, K., Palmovic, M., Pfeiler, B., Voeikova, M. D. & Dressler, W. U. (2012). On the role of morphological richness in the early development of noun and verb inflection. First Language, 31, 461-479.

Xu, Y., Regier, T., & Malt, B.C. (2015). Semantic chaining and efficient communication: The case of container names.  In Proceedings of the 37th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

*Youn, H., Sutton, L., Smith, E., Moore, C., Wilkins, J. F., Maddieson, I., ... & Bhattacharya, T. (2015). On the universal structure of human lexical semantics. arXiv preprint arXiv:1504.07843.

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Contact Information for Dr. Christiansen
Department of Psychology
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office: 228 Uris Hall
Office Hours: Tuesdays 12-1:00PM and by appointment
Phone: (607) 255-3834 (dept)
Fax: (607) 255-8433
Cornell home page
Lab web site

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Last modified October 22, 2015, by mhc.