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?
- Artificial Language Learning
- The world's 6000 languages have a surprising number of similarities in their grammatical structures.
One common pattern is a contingency hierarchy: if some langauge has Property X, then it necessarily has Property Y.
In this project, I teach subjects fake languages with Property X. Then, I ask them to produce sentences with Property Y. Many prominent theories predict that humans can only learn structures we have been exposed to. Contrary to this prediction, subjects in this study successfully produce Property Y despite never having been exposed to it.
- Syntax in the Brain
- Neuroimaging and electrophysiology have uncovered how phonetic representations are coded in the brain (check out this awesome paper),
but we still don't understand syntax in the brain.
In this line of research, Eric Halgren, Roger Levy, Vic Ferreira, Erik Kaestner, Meilin Zhan, and I use ECoG to uncover syntactic representations in the brain.
- Individual Differences
- Does every native speaker of English have the same grammar? In this project I demonstrate that there are as many versions of English grammar as there are speakers of English.
This finding suggests that the grammar is probably not a set of abstract "rules" derived from experience. Instead, these rules are similar to phonemes: emergent properties of a lifetime of experience.
- Resumptive Pronouns
- In many languages, speakers produce pronouns that no one is sure whether they are grammatical. (Case in point.)
Resumptive pronouns sound bad, but speakers still use them (see my 2018 paper with Matt Wagers).
What does this mean for theories of syntax?
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 converge on the idea that the weird properties of resumptive pronouns result from cognitive limitations during speech.
- 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. [PDF]
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