Our primary research paradigm is eye-tracking while listening. This method assesses comprehension in both literate and illiterate populations (e.g., your typical 5-year-old) and yields fine-grained measures of interpretations as they occur. Beyond simply providing more a sensitive index of language ability, this approach – when paired with savvy experimental design – reveals the architectural properties that support a learner’s capacity to understand language. We use two eyetracking methods to collect our data. The most basic is the Poor Man's Eyetracker, which consists of a wooden platform with stimuli in each of its four corners. We place a video camera in the center of the platform and record eye movements. Then, we code the eye movements using a computer program. The other eyetracking method is the Desktop Eyetracker, which runs on a computer program that automatically codes eye movements. In studies using the Desktop Eyetracker, the stimuli are displayed on a computer program on an adjacent testing computer.

Lab Entrance
Desktop Eyetracker
Poor Man's Eyetracker
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Interested in becoming a research assistant?

We are always looking for motivated and dependable undergraduates to join our research team. You can get involved in several ways. First, during the school year, students get involved by registering for 2 or 3 credits of the HESP 499 Independent Study course (6 to 9 hours per week). In order to make this experience worthwhile, we ask students to commit to a minimum of two semesters in the lab. Second, during the summer, we run the LCL Emerging Scholars Research Internship. This valuable experience runs for a 40 hours a week, for 8 weeks during the summer (precise schedule subject to some flexibility). Finally, sophomores who are interested in undertaking their own research project can apply to the HESP Honors Program. Qualified candidates will work closely with a faculty to propose, conduct, and defend a research study during their junior and senior year. If you are interested in joining our research team, fill out our application form and send it with your resume to ythuang1@umd.edu.

Communication involves understanding the literal meanings of utterances as well as generating inferences to capture a speaker's intent. On-going projects in our lab examine how these inferences unfold during real-time comprehension and the extent to which they are affected by listeners' linguistic experience, sensitivity to the conversational context, and knowledge of the speaker. Our work suggests that even very robust pragmatic inferences often take time to generate. Also within pragmatic phenomena, there is a critical division between (1) top-down predictive processes that influence utterance interpretation early on and (2) bottom-up integrative processes which trigger inferences based on access to the utterance meaning. Our studies suggest that compared to adults, young children (4- to 6-year-olds) often have challenges with both. Since pragmatic inferences involve the coordination of multiple representations during real-time comprehension, they are less reliable in populations with limited cognitive resources.

Select publications and presentations

Adler, R., Novick, J., & Huang, Y. (January, 2016). The time course of verbal irony comprehension and context integration. Paper presented at the Trends in Experimental Pragmatics Workshop. Berlin, Germany.

Huang, Y., Hopfinger, J., & Gordon, P. (2014). Distinguishing word- versus discourse-level processing using event-related potentials. Memory and Cognition, 42, 275-291.

Huang, Y. & Gordon, P. (2011). Distinguishing the time-course of lexical and discourse processes through context, coreference, and quantified expressions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 37, 966-978.

Huang, Y. & Snedeker, J. (2009). On-line interpretation of scalar quantifiers: Insight into the semantics-pragmatics interface. Cognitive Psychology, 58, 376-415.

Within language development, divergences based on socioeconomic status (SES) are evident during the second year of life and are well established by the time a child enters school. Thus, understanding SES effects on early language skills is critical for reducing achievement gaps in school readiness. Current approaches often rely on coarse-grained measures of language abilities (e.g., overall vocabulary size, number of clauses), which provide limited insights into how SES-related differences came about in the first place. Our current research takes a more fine-grained approach, focusing on the demands associated with a single construction (passives) and examining its interpretation in populations that differ greatly in their input quantity (3- to 6-year-olds from lower- and higher-SES families). This work suggests that input quantity affects children’s real-time sensitivity to informative linguistic cues within spoken utterances, impacting their ability to effectively recruit these cues to reanalyze initial misinterpretations.

Select publications and presentations

Hollister, E. & Huang, Y. (November, 2016). Understanding the "word gap": Cognitive control and processing effects. Paper presented at the 41st Boston University Conference on Language Development. Boston, MA.

Huang, Y. & Arnold, A. (accepted). Word learning in linguistic context: Processing and memory effects. To appear in Cognition.

Leech, K., Rowe, M., & Huang, Y. (2016). Variations in the recruitment of syntactic knowledge contribute to SES differences in syntactic development. To appear in Journal of Child Language.

Huang, Y., Zheng, X., Meng, X., & Snedeker, J. (2013). Assignment of grammatical roles in the online processing of Mandarin passive sentences. Journal of Memory and Language, 69, 589-606.

During communication, speakers often recruit prosody to evoke contrast. For example, they may accent nouns (e.g., “No, I want the PENCIL”) to distinguish referents from different categories (e.g., pen) or adjectives (e.g., “Give me the ORANGE horse”) to distinguish referents from same categories (e.g., red horse). Critically, the comprehension of prosody has clinical relevance for cochlear-implant users, for whom the primary cue is severely diminished (pitch) but the secondary cues remain intact (intensity, duration). Our research investigated whether the ability to exploit these secondary cues varies with the computational demands of establishing contrast sets. This work suggests that listeners’ ability to exploit cues to prosody depends not only the number of cues available in the signal but also on the (1) demands associated with mapping these cues to meaning and (2) amount of experience listeners have with making these mappings.

Select publications and presentations

Huang, Y., Newman, R., Catalano, A., & Goupell, M. (under review). Using prosody to infer discourse prominence in cochlear-implant users and normal-hearing listeners. Manuscript available.

Huang, Y., Catalano, A., Newman, R., & Goupell, M. (March, 2015). Using prosody to infer discourse status in normal-hearing and cochlear-implant listeners. Paper presented at the 28th annual CUNY conference on Human Sentence Processing. Los Angeles, CA.

Catalano, A., Huang, Y., Goupell, M., & Newman, R. (November, 2014). The use of prosody to infer discourse status in degraded speech. Poster presented at the 2014 ASHA Convention. Orlando, FL.