Adam M. Morgan
PhD Candidate in Experimental Psychology
California, San Diego
- I'm a graduate student working with
Vic Ferreira, in the Language Production Lab at UC San Diego. Other mentors include
and Eva Wittenberg.
My field is psycholinguistics, with a focus on mental representations of syntax (sentence structure) and language production (how the brain translates from thought to
My research is motivated by big questions: Why are humans the only animals with language? Why is it that, across the world's 6000-ish languages, there are seemingly arbitrary but robust patterns in the way syntactic structures look? To address these questions, I am running a few independent lines of research:
- Individual differences:
Are syntactic representations abstract "rules" or, like phonetic representations, are they emergent properties of a lifetime of experience?
In this line of research, I show that speakers of the same language have different grammars, meaning that syntactic structures are probably not derived from experience.
Instead, they seem to directly reflect experience suggesting that they may be epiphenomena to experience like phoneticians understand phonemes to be.
- Artificial language learning:
The grammars of the world's 6000 languages are surprisingly systematic.
For example, contingency hierarchies are surprisingly common: if Language A has Property X, then it necessarily has Property Y, but the reverse is not necessarily true.
In this project, I teach people new languages and expose them to Property X and then ask them to produce sentences that would require them to generate Property Y. Contrary to strictly experience-based theories of language learning, subjects seem to be able to produce Property Y despite never having been exposed to it.
- Neural representation and processing of syntactic structure:
Neuroimaging and electrophysiology have uncovered how phonetic representations are organized in the brain (check out this awesome paper),
but we still have limited understanding of how representations at the syntactic level are organized.
In this line of research, Vic Ferreira, Eric Halgren, Roger Levy, Erik Kaestner, Meilin Zhan, and I are working to uncover signatures of processing of these representations in ECoG data.
- Resumptive pronouns:
In many languages, speakers produce pronouns that no one is sure whether they are grammatical. (Case in point.)
Resumptive pronouns' production is systematic (see my 2018 paper with matt Wagers), but their acceptability is low.
What does this mean for theories of syntax and its relationship to acceptability and production?
Along with Aya Meltzer-Asscher, Julie Fadlon, Vic Ferreira, Titus von der Malsburg, Matt Wagers, and Eva Wittenberg, I am working on several projects which are converging on the idea that this pattern of production and acceptability data tells us more about production processes than grammaticality.
- Fadlon, J., Morgan, A. M., Meltzer-Asscher, A., Ferreira, V. S. It depends: Optionality in the production of filler-gap dependencies. Journal of Memory and Language.
We show how speakers use language-specific strategies (passivization in English and resumptive pronouns in Hebrew) in order to minimize working memory burdens during the production of complex structures.
- Kaestner, E., Morgan, A. M., Snider, J., Zhan, M., Jiang, X., Levy, R., Ferreira, V. S., Thesen, T., & Halgren, E. Toward a database of intracranial electrophysiology during natural language presentation. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience.
We created a corpus of ECoG data paired with naturalistic language input (from movies). The corpus was manually tagged for several linguistic features. We present preliminary analyses demonstrating the validity of the data.
- Morgan, A. M., Wagers, M. English resumptive pronouns are more
common where gaps are less acceptable. Linguistic Inquiry. [PDF] [data]
Matt and I report a negative correlation between how much
English speakers like the way a certain structure (a "filler-gap
dependency") sounds, and how likely speakers are to use an
alternative to that structure ("resumption") when speaking. On the
basis of this finding, we argue that resumption is not grammatical in
English, but the result of a speaker giving up on forming a complete
- Ferreira, V. S., Morgan, A. M., &
Slevc, L. R. Grammatical encoding. In G. Gaskell (Ed.)
Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics 2nd Edition. Oxford: Oxford
A summary of current consensus and
debate regarding language production.
Inclusivity Door Signs