I study the cognitive and neural processes that compute "higher-level" aspects of meaning, such as pragmatic meaning and real-world, referential meaning, including the truth value of a sentence. In particular, my current research focuses on two domains; prediction and reference.
The language system is often viewed as a prediction machine which continuously matches sensory input with top-down, grammatical or probabilistic expectations based on context and memory. My research explores the viability of linguistic predictions at multiple levels and their role in propelling incremental comprehension (e.g., Nieuwland, NBR 2019; Nieuwland et al., eLife 2019), including the comprehension of "complex" sentences (e.g., negative and counterfactual sentences; e.g., Nieuwland & Martin, Cognition 2012; Kulakova & Nieuwland, CABN 2016).
People flexibly use general word meaning ("sense") to express more specific meanings in a given context ("reference"). But how do we represent sense and reference so that we can flexibly combine them? My research investigates the cognitive computations and neural processes involved in linking stored meaning to referents (e.g., Nieuwland & Martin, JoCN 2017; Nieuwland, JML 2014), be they linguistic or non-linguistic. Current projects in my lab use neural oscillations to study how people activate and integrate discourse referents.