Human communication is a marvel. We express a vast kaleidoscope of ideas, many of which are quite abstract. And we communicate these ideas in different modes—sometimes verbally, sometimes visually, and often in combinations of the two. I study human communication—in all its visual and verbal forms—and what it tells us about human cognition. My research is organized around three intersecting themes:
Gesture and language
In every culture, starting at a young age, humans communicate by combining verbal and visual modes of expression, especially spoken words and gestures of the hands. How do speakers combine these modes to make meaning—and, moreover, why?
Representative article: 'The co-organization of demonstratives and pointing gestures' [link]
Metaphor and analogy
When we communicate about the invisible building blocks of everyday experience—time, cause, and number—or about slippery new abstractions, we often reach for metaphors and analogies. How do these figurative forms show up in our language, gesture, and visual culture? And why are they so pervasive?
Representative article: 'Spatial analogies pervade complex relational reasoning' [link]
Diversity and universals
People everywhere share the same bodies and brains, but live in communities with radically different practices, conventions, cultural histories, and environments. How do these different forces give rise to both universals and diversity in how humans around the world talk, gesture, and think?
Representative article: 'Where does the ordered line come from?' [link]
Our work on how Yupno uphill-downhill concepts are used indoors was covered by National Geographic.
Our research on pointing in the Yupno valley of Papua New Guinea was recently covered by Only Human, a National Geographic blog.
Our research on Yupno intuitions about the number line was covered by New Scientist.