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What We Do

In the Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at Cornell University, we aim to produce a comprehensive account of the evolution, acquisition and processing of language. Our research is conducted within a unified framework for understanding language across multiple time-scales: the time-scale of thousands of years, over which languages themselves evolve; the time-scale of years, over which children acquire the language of their community; and the time-scale of seconds, in which particular utterances are spoken and understood. We approach language using a variety of methods, including neuroimaging, eye-tracking, statistical learning experiments, psycholinguistic studies, corpus analyses, and computational modeling as well as with different subject populations, ranging from infants to adults with and without language impairments. A comprehensive account of the CNL research can be found in the book Creating language: Integrating evolution, acquisition, and processing by Christiansen & Chater (2016).


Dr. Christiansen's new book, Creating language: Integrating evolution, acquisition, and processing, is now out (April 1, 2016). Click here for a brief write-up on

Dr. Christiansen is editing a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on "New Frontiers for Statistical Learning in the Cognitive Sciences” (with Blair Armstrong and Ram Frost).

Dr. Christiansen is editing a special issue of Topics in Cognitive Science on “More than Words: The Role of Multiword Sequences in Language Learning and Use” (with Inbal Arnon).

Dr. Christiansen will be a keynote speaker at the Fifth Implicit Learning Seminar at Lancaster University, U.K., June 23-25 2016.

Dr. Christiansen delivered a public lecture, "Darwin's Insight: The Cultural Evolution of Language", in the Alabama Lectures on Life's Evolution series, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL. Write-up in the UA News.

Dr. Christiansen was a keynote speaker at the International Conference on Statistical Learning at the Basque Center on Cognition, Brain and Language, San Sebastián, Spain.

News Archive

Upcoming Presentations

S. Fitneva & M. H. Christiansen (2016, May). Understanding the Developmental Trajectory of Cross-Situational Word Learning. Talk to be presented at the XX Biennial International Conference of Infant Studies, New Orleans, LA.

R. L. A. Frost, M. Peter, S. Durrant, A. Bidgood, C. Rowland, P. Monaghan & M. H. Christiansen (2016, May). How Do Infants Use Nonadjacent Dependencies during Language Development? Poster to be presented at the XX Biennial International Conference of Infant Studies, New Orleans, LA.

Recent Journal Papers

Chater, N. & Christiansen, M.H. (in press). Squeezing through the Now-or-Never bottleneck: Reconnecting language processing, acquisition, change and structure. Behavioral & Brain Sciences. [response to commentaries]

Chater, N., McCauley, S.M. & Christiansen, M.H. (in press). Language as skill: Intertwining comprehension and production. Journal of Memory and Language.

Christiansen, M.H. & Chater, N. (in press). The Now-or-Never bottleneck: A fundamental constraint on language. Behavioral & Brain Sciences. [target article]

Christiansen, M.H. & Monaghan, P. (in press). Division of labor in vocabulary structure: Insights from corpus analyses. Topics in Cognitive Science.

Dediu, D. & Christiansen, M.H. (in press). Language evolution: Constraints and opportunities from modern genetics. Topics in Cognitive Science.

Farmer, T.A., Fine, A.B., Misyak, J.B. & Christiansen, M.H. (in press). The inter-relationship between reading span task performance, linguistic experience, and the processing of unexpected syntactic events. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Fitneva, S.A. & Christiansen, M.H. (in press). Developmental changes in cross-situational word learning: The inverse effect of initial accuracy.Cognitive Science.

Mueller, K.L., Murray, J.C., Michaelson, J.J., Christiansen, M.H., Reilly, S. & Tomblin, J.B. (in press). Common genetic variants in FOXP2 are not associated with individual differences in language development. PLoS ONE.

Vuong, L.C., Meyer, A.S. & Christiansen, M.H. (in press). Concurrent learning of adjacent and nonadjacent dependencies. Language Learning.

Caldwell-Harris, C., Ladd, R., Dediu, D., Biller, A. & Christiansen, M.H. (2015) Factors influencing sensitivity to lexical tone in an artificial language: Implications for L2 learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 37, 335-357.

Christiansen, M.H. & Chater, N. (2015). The language faculty that wasn’t: A usage-based account of natural language recursion. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1182. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01182.

Dingemanse, M., Blasi, D., Lupyan, G., Christiansen, M.H. & Monaghan, P. (2015). Arbitrariness, iconicity and systematicity in language.Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19, 603–615.

Frost, R., Armstrong, B.C., Siegelman, N. & Christiansen, M.H. (2015). Domain generality vs. modality specificity: The paradox of statistical learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19, 117-125.

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