Dr. Alice Julie Blumenthal-Dramé
October 2015 - July 2016
I am currently an Assistant Professor (Akad. Rätin a.Z.) in English Linguistics at the Department of English at the University of Freiburg (Germany). I studied English Philology, Slavic Philology, Computational Linguistics and General Linguistics at the University of Manchester (UK), the Lomonosov University of Moscow (Russian Federation), and the University of Freiburg (Germany), from where I received my PhD in English Linguistics in 2011. My studies were funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst) and the German National Merit Foundation (Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes).
My thesis and several upcoming publications exploit behavioral and functional neuroimaging methods to explore the extent to which semantic transparency and usage frequency affect the early processing stages of different kinds of words (e.g., kissable, worthless, several, hardly). Major motivations behind this research have been: (1) to put to the test the cognitive reality of cognitive linguistic assumptions, and (2) to gain a better understanding of the size and nature of the cognitive building blocks that people draw on in natural language use.
Further research interests include morphological theories, psycholinguistic theories, Gestalt psychology, usage-based linguistics, language typology, statistical methods, and historical linguistics.
- to appear 2016. Research topic: Perceptual linguistic salience – Modeling causes and consequences. Frontiers in Psychology: Language Sciences. (with Adriana Hanulíková and Bernd Kortmann)
- to appear 2015. Entrenchment from a psycholinguistic and neurolinguistics perspective. In: Hans-Jörg Schmid (ed.): Entrenchment, memory and automaticity. The psychology of linguistic knowledge and language learning. Boston: APA and Walter de Gruyter.
- 2013. Die Verschiedenheit der Sprachen. In: P. Auer (ed.): Sprachwissenschaft: Eine Einführung. Stuttgart: Metzler. (with Bernd Kortmann)
- 2012. Entrenchment in Usage-Based Theories. What Corpus Data do and do not Reveal about the Mind. Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton.
Structural predictions in language and motor processing
It is widely assumed that the processing of motor and language sequences (e.g., the sequence of movements required to drink from a cup, or the sequence of words to build an utterance like 'He gave her a book') relies to some extent on structural knowledge. Structural knowledge captures what similar situations have in common and how they can diverge; it allows one to flexibly adapt to new situations (e.g., drinking from an oddly shaped cup or expressing an utterance never encountered before). Likewise, there is emerging consensus that both motor action and language massively rely on prediction (e.g., you adapt your way of grasping for a cup to its anticipated weight; you anticipate upcoming words in a discussion).
These similarities, among others, have led to the theoretically attractive, but largely unsubstantiated proposal that language structures might exploit functionally more basic sensorimotor action circuits in the brain. During my FRIAS fellowship, I will conduct an electroencephalography (EEG) experiment comparing event-related potentials to more and less expected motor and language structures. This will be a first crucial step towards integrating research on motor and language patterns. My results will feed into on-going theoretical debates on how the brain reacts to unpredictable input, why the world’s languages prefer certain structures over others, and how to model the induction of structural knowledge from linear sensory input.