Studying Why Words Like 'Glimp' Seem Possible

September 13, 2022

With an NSF grant, Professor Kyle Gorman studies how people identify probable and improbable nonsense words.

Kyle Gorman
Professor Kyle Gorman received a National Science Foundation grant for a linguistics study that will shed light on how children learn the sound patterns of languages. (Photo credit: Rachel Ramirez)

Professor Kyle Gorman (Linguistics) received a National Science Foundation grant of nearly $167,000 for a collaborative study of wordlikeness, or how people distinguish between likely and unlikely nonsense words.

Somehow, without being taught, speakers of any language can distinguish between possible but non-existing words such as “glimp” and impossible words such as “tsvichek.” Gorman, a computational linguist who specializes in speech and language processing, will collaborate with researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Mississippi to investigate how speakers of English and Korean make these wordlikeness judgments and what the judgments indicate about speakers’ knowledge of their language.

“The study will help us to better understand how children, quickly and more or less effortlessly, learn the sound patterns of their language,” Gorman said.

The grant will also support outreach for CUNY undergraduates and a graduate research assistant. Gorman and his colleagues plan to create an open-access, online database of their experimental results for linguists and psychologists.

Learn more about the study on the NSF website.

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