Language Variation & Cognition Lab

Welcome to the website for the Language Variation and Cognition Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Click here to sign up to participate in our current study!

People use language in ways that are constantly shifting. Think about how differently you might talk when you’re hanging out with your friends than when you’re at the doctor or meeting with a professor! All kinds of things about our social lives, our identities, and the contexts we find ourselves in influence the way we speak. What’s more, although we do have some control over our speech style, most of the time we make these adjustments on the fly, without really thinking about it.

Here at the Language Variation and Cognition Lab, we’re interested in how people perform these tricks of verbal gymnastics. What do people know about the social connotations of different sentence structures or word pronunciations? How do they recognize these different forms as conveying the same linguistic meaning? And how do they themselves choose not just what to say, but how to say it?

To answer these questions, we need to draw on multiple research methods from different linguistic traditions. That’s why you might just as easily find our lab members hanging out in people’s living rooms recording conversation and stories…or asking experimental participants to listen to made-up words…or drawing elaborate grammatical diagrams on a whiteboard…or programming statistical analyses of thousands of datapoints.