Like many cognitive scientists, I am interested in how the mind structures the world around us. In my case I am particularly interested in how concepts and the meaning of words are represented. Given that most words are acquired from the linguistic context in which they are used, one approach is to see what kind of structure and information is available in the linguistic environment. This often involves the use of computational models that encode the which words go together in speech and text. In the case of text, these can often be accessed using large-scale corpora freely available.
Apart from figuring out what kind of information is useful for people to understand the meaning of a word or sentence, it is also important to consider what kind of knowledge representation might be most suitable. This involves questions about how we can efficiently navigate and retrieve this information, but also how we can make sensible inferences about word meaning even if we have encountered a word only a few times. One approach I have been exploring the last couple of years is the representation of word meaning in lexico-semantic networks using which are studied in the Small World of Words project. This approach might also learn us something about the way our mental lexicon evolves.
One way this question is currently addressed is by looking how semantic networks grow and perish over time by comparing networks of very young people to those of aged individuals. In the future, I also hope to apply these findings to clinical cases, elaborate on individual differences, investigate cross-cultural differences in the way people represent the meaning of words and how semantic and non-linguistically represented knowledge can be combined.
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