ERC Consolidator Grant for research into the role of memory in communication
Assistant Professor in Linguistics Jakub Dotlacil will receive a two million euro ERC Consolidator Grant to build a research group for his Memory Access in Language: How We Store and Retrieve Linguistic Information project. With two PhD candidates and two postdocs, Dotlacil will conduct interdisciplinary research into the role of memory in communication. “This will help us to better understand why our knowledge of words, grammatical knowledge, and our ability to understand texts are structured in the way they are.”
“The project has a potential to strengthen ties between linguistics, psychology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence”, Dotlacil says. “In my view, this is one of the important ways to go forward in the study of language. I am happy that I get a chance to work on this project and to take part in this research line.”
Research into the role of memory in language
In the Memory Access in Language project, Dotlacil will delve into the role of memory in language. “Memory plays a crucial role, actually, as when we communicate, we have to store information and recall it when needed”, he explains. “For example, even in a simple sentence like ‘Students definitely understand the assignment’, we have to recall the subject ‘students’ when reading ‘understand’, otherwise we would not know who it is that understands the assignment.”
“Up to now, the research model with which memory has been studied in linguistics and cognitive science, has been applied only very narrowly. For instance, it can explain how we recall the word ‘students’, but many other functions of memory in communication, such as our knowledge of previous discourse, grammatical knowledge, or knowledge of words, falls outside this approach.”
A new model for studying memory in communication
The core idea of the Memory Access in Language project is that the existing memory model can be used elsewhere in the study of language as well, if it is linked to other theories developed in linguistics, cognitive sciences, and artificial knowledge. “First, we will link the model of memory to computational models of knowledge of words”, Dotlacil tells. “Then, we will link it to models of grammatical knowledge to understand how we store and recall grammatical rules. And finally, we will link it to discourse theories to have an analysis of storage and recall of textual information.”
Up to now, the research model with which memory has been studied in linguistics and cognitive science, has been applied only very narrowly.
Dotlacil hopes the project will lead to a new view on the memory model, one that is general and cross-domain. “We will provide a more principled account of how memory interacts with our capacity to communicate and the results will give us a new way to understand why our knowledge of words, grammatical knowledge, and our ability to understand texts are structured in the way they are.”
An assistant professor at Utrecht University’s department of Languages, Literature and Communication, Jakub Dotlacil is involved in teaching in the programmes of Linguistics and Artificial Intelligence. He has received his Master’s degree at Norway’s Universitet i Tromsø and his PhD degree at Utrecht University. In the past, he has been employed as a lecturer and post-doctoral researcher at the universities of California Santa Cruz, Groningen, and Amsterdam.
Dotlacil’s main research focus area is to understand how to build a computational model of language that would be cognitively plausible, one that would take into account the limits of human cognitive capacities, and whether such a model could be used to predict human behaviour.