Dr Lewis Bott - BSc Newcastle-upon-Tyne, PhD Warwick

Senior Lecturer

Research group:
Cognitive Science
Email:
BottLA@cardiff.ac.uk
Telephone:
029 208 74938
Location:
Tower Building, Park Place

Research summary

I study how we understand and process language. When we communicate, we do not hear sentences in isolation from what has gone on before in a discourse, nor in isolation from our knowledge of who the speaker is, what they know etc. Rather, the sentence is made in the context of a set of assumptions about what the speaker knows and what they might be trying to communicate. These assumptions allow us to make inferences about what the speaker meant but did not explicitly say. For example, if a letter of recommendation says only that a student was punctual for his classes, there can be an implication that the student’s academic performance was poor; or, saying, “not ALL of the cakes have been eaten,” implies that there are some cakes that are still available. My interest is in how people incorporate communicative assumptions into sentence representations to generate implications like these. I use psycholinguistic techniques such as priming, mousetracking, eyetracking and speeded verification judgments to understand the processing of pragmatic phenomena.

Selected publications (2014 onwards)

 

Full list of publications

 

Research topics and related papers

I study how we understand and process language. When we communicate, we do not hear sentences in isolation from what has gone on before in a discourse, nor in isolation from our knowledge of who the speaker is, what they know etc. Rather, the sentence is made in the context of a set of assumptions about what the speaker knows and what they might be trying to communicate. These assumptions allow us to make inferences about what the speaker meant but did not explicitly say. For example, if a letter of recommendation says only that a student was punctual for his classes, there can be an implication that the student’s academic performance was poor; or, saying, “not ALL of the cakes have been eaten,” implies that there are some cakes that are still available. My interest is in how people incorporate communicative assumptions into sentence representations to generate implications like these.

I use a range of psycholinguistic techniques such as priming, mousetracking, eyetracking and speeded verification judgments to understand language processing. One of these is known as a speed-accuracy-tradeoff task (SAT; see Reed, 1973; McElree, 1993). This involves giving participants variable amounts of time to interpret a sentence. The participant reads the sentence and then presses a button at different delays immediately after the final word. The figure opposite illustrates the procedure.

By looking at how interpretations change across time, I can draw conclusions about the processes that allow us to form sentence meaning. The figure to the left shows the results of one study using this technique (from Bott, Bailey & Grodner, 2012). Participant comprehension accuracy initially increases, but literal meanings increase at a faster rate than implied meanings.

I also use (computer) mouse trajectories to study pragmatic processes in language. In a mouse tracking experiment (see e.g., Spivey & Dale, 2006), participants respond to a stimulus by clicking with their mouse on a part of the screen. The figure to the left shows an example trial from an experiment on metaphors (Tomlinson, Bott & Assimakopoulos, 2011). Here, the participant must click on the picture that best captures the meaning of the sentence, “The goalie was a spider.

The data to the right shows mouse paths of people processing metaphors. When the incorrect image corresponds to the literal meaning of the sentence, mouse paths are deviated away from the ideal path. More interestingly, relevant features of the metaphor vehicle are only activated at a later stage in processing, as shown by the late deviation of the mouse path in red.

I am currently involved in projects using all of these techniques. I have a long running interest in how scalar implicatures are computed and processed, and I am now building on this research to investigate other areas of pragmatics and semantics, such as presuppositions, free choice inferences, and lying.

I am also investigating several types of figurative language such as metaphor and metonymy. The practical applications of this work are being addressed by projects testing whether people with Parkinson’s disease have difficulty understanding nonliteral language.

Funding

Bott, L, (PI), Bailey, TM & Grodner, D. October 2010. The time course of inferences in language comprehension. ESRC Award RES-062-23-2410. £191,389.27.

Bott, L, & Lindell, A., Hemispheric asymmetries in understanding nonliteral language. Welsh Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience research award. £4780, from September, 2007.

Bott, L., Bailey, T., Wilding, E. & Thierry, G. Understanding temporal order in language processing. Welsh Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience research award. £4960, from May, 2009.

Bott, L. & Bracewell, M. Language impairments in people with Parkinson’s disease. Welsh Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience research award. £4995, from August 2009.

Research group

Jack Tomlinson (Postdoctoral Scientist, Cardiff University)

Research collaborators

Dan Grodner (Swarthmore College, USA)

Ira Noveck (Institut des Sciences Cognitives, CNRS, France)

Steven Frisson (Birmingham University, UK)

Todd Bailey (Cardiff University, UK)

Emmanuel Chemla (Institut Jean Nicod, CNRS/EHESS/ENS, France)

Postgraduate research interests

I am interested in supervising work on language processing. My research is focussed on pragmatics, figurative language, and linguistic communication. I am particularly interested in supervising students who may have completed a linguistics or a philosophy of language degree and who wish to branch out into psycholinguistics. Currently I am looking for somebody to work on the following projects:

How does the language system integrate visual and auditory information?
How does short term memory interact with linguistic pragmatics?
Why is lying so easy?
How are presuppositions and implicatures processed and represented?
Can connectionist models simulate pragmatic maxims?

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, in any of these areas, or for further information regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application here.

Undergraduate education

1992 – 1995. BSc (J. Hons). Mathematics and Psychology, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Postgraduate education

1998 – 2001. PhD, Psychology University of Warwick
Supervised by Dr. E. Heit and Prof. G.D.Brown
Thesis title: Prior Knowledge and Statistical Models of Categorization

1995 – 1996. MSc. Cognitive Science, University of Birmingham
Thesis title: The Effects of Race and Typicality on an Exemplar-Based Connectionist Model of Face Processing

Employment

October 2011: promoted to Senior Lecturer, Cardiff University, UK. 2005 – 2011: Lecturer, Cardiff University, UK. June 2003 – June 2005: Postdoctoral Researcher, New York University, with Professor Gregory Murphy. Experimental pragmatics and category learning. April 2001 - April 2003. Postdoctoral Researcher, Institut des Sciences Cognitive, Lyon, France, with Dr. Ira Noveck. Experimental pragmatics. Oct 1996 - Jan 1998: Research Associate at the Department of Psychology, University of Warwick, with Dr. Evan Heit. Jan 1998 - April 2001: Statistics tutor. University of Warwick, UK. Summers 1998 and 1999: Open University Summer School tutor. Artificial Intelligence module.