Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics, UC Davis
They are the billionaire class of words! A small but extremely influential group of words like "the", "a", "and", "or","of", "to", and "not". They are the most frequent elements in every language and encode highly abstract meanings like negation, disjunction, numbers, and uniqueness. Why are function words so powerful?
Function words encode abstract logical and combinatorial concepts such as negation, disjunction, numbers, and quantification. They are like the nuts and bolts that hold words, phrases, and sentences together making communication of complex thought possible.
The abstract and combinatorial meanings of function words hold the key to understanding the primitives of human thought. My lab (the Logic, Language, & Learning Lab) studies the meanings of function words and how humans learn them. We combine insights from formal and theoretical semantics with experimental methods in psycholinguistics, and modeling techniques from computational linguistics and machine learning to address this overarching question.