Focuses: Pragmatics/disourse – Obscenities – Neuroscience
Stanley Donahoo’s research is broadly concerned with how language is represented in the mind/brain, and how this process is informed by social meaning. As such, Stanley is currently working on the comprehension mechanisms of swearing. This project employs both behavioural (reaction times, computer keyboard responses) and EEG methods. Currently, the project examines how our understanding of swears and other taboo language unfolds at the lexical level, but the project will be extended to sentence-level phenomena as well.
Current theories of language processing have neglected to consider how these words are represented and processed, but we have evidence from clinical populations to suggest that swearing is possibly processed in the brain’s right hemisphere, while ‘normal’ language is typically a left-hemisphere process. Why would this be the case? What ramifications does this have for models of language comprehension? Stanley’s work hopes to answer these and other questions by comparing this clinical data to healthy adults. Together then, we can develop new interventions to hasten the language recovery process in cases of stroke or aphasia.
Further, and somewhat puzzlingly, it has been claimed that many of the mechanisms behind swearing are similar to those involved in the understanding of discourse particles. German has many of these. For example, *nur* can serve to mark questions as rhetorical. If a German speaker asks *Wo hast du meine Schl**üssel hingelegt? *[Where did you put my keys?] the speaker is seeking a specific location as an answer. However,* Wo hast du nur meine Schl**üssel hingelegt?* [Where in the world did you put my keys, I’ve already looked everywhere?!] has a very different meaning. Stanley is planning to explore these two cases, and others like it (e.g. honorifics), to have a more complete understanding of what happens when speakers infer beyond the literal meaning of an utterance.
Interested students would have the opportunity to help create stimuli, write experimental scripts, and collect data by scheduling/running participants. Students may also have the opportunity to prepare EEG data for further analyses. Students with a general understanding of experimental design are especially encouraged to contact the coglanglab/Tom/Luke/stanley directly. A background in linguistics and/or German is preferred, but certainly not required.