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Aubrey (Sin Hang) Lau

I am a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego, working with Dr. Victor S. Ferreira in the Language Production Lab

I work in the area of psycholinguistics and am particularly interested in sentence processing in language production. My primary research lines involve using speech error elicitation techniques and artificial language learning paradigms to study a few broad questions: What cognitive mechanisms support syntactic processing, resulting in the process being fast, subconscious, and relatively error-free? How do learners acquire syntactic structures based on limited input in a constrained manner, such that they do not over- or under-generalize? What are the planning units in speech? My secondary interest is in using corpus studies to complement my behavioral work. The goal is to infer processing constraints and communication principles from diachronic patterns in language use.
For further information on my background and my work, please keep scrolling or click on the above tabs. Contact me at aubreylausinhang at gmail dot com.

Research Highlights & CV

Below are some of the research questions I have been working on. Please click here for my full CV (updated in January, 2019).

  • Cognitive mechanisms in syntactic processing: Syntactic error patterns reveal that certain features (under certain syntactic environments) are more prone to errors than others. I use error elicitation techniques to study subject-verb agreement, in order to investigate what kinds of grammatical features are processed more automatically than others and what a mechanistic explanation for these differences might look like. Additionally, my qualifying paper reviews the relationship between syntax and inhibitory control and extends models of monitoring in lexical access to syntactic processing.


  • Artificial language learning: How do we learn that “I gave Ben a book” and “I gave a book to Ben” are both fine, but only the latter structure is acceptable for some verbs like “donate”? In collaboration with Dr. Shota Momma (post-doc in the Language Production Lab), we taught English monolinguals a Korean-English hybrid language to examine how learners make generalizations when learning verb argument structures. Our results so far have demonstrated that generalization patterns are influenced by the type of exposure a learner receives (within vs. outside VP alternations, i.e., non-scrambled vs. scrambled structures), suggesting that learners may have internal linguistic biases that guide their generalizations even in a novel language.


  • Planning units: How are segmental and suprasegmental features represented and used in speech planning in Mandarin? In collaboration with Dr. Chuchu Li (post-doc in the Language Production Lab), we are developing a line of experiments to test whether tone is also a basic planning unit in speech (represented independently of other segmental features).


  • Corpus studies: Even after controlling for the overall frequency of a word, some words are spoken often but almost never written, and the reverse is true for some others, but why? Can we use perceptual features to predict what kinds of words would be used disproportionately more in one modality versus another? In collaboration with Yaqian Huang (graduate student in Linguistics) and Dr. Edward Vul (faculty member in Psychology), we addressed these questions with word length, neighborhood density, and bigram/biphone positional probability and found modality-specific differences above and beyond genre differences. We discuss our results in terms of the different processing constraints and communicative concerns in speech versus in writing.


Lau, S. H.*, Huang, Y.*, Ferreira, V. S., & Vul, E. (in press). Perceptual Features Predict Word Frequency Asymmetry Across Modalities. Special Issue in Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics.
*This work is the extension of a class project for a graduate statistics course and is co-first authored by Lau and Huang.


Lau, S. H., & Hwang, H. (2016). The Effects of Frequency on Pronoun Production. Journal of Cognitive Science, 17(4), 547-569. [pdf]

Poster Presentations

Lau, S. H., Momma, S., & Ferreira, V. S. (2018). Learning Structural Alternations: What tells learners how to generalize?. Poster presented at the International Workshop on Language production in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. [pdf]
*Runner-up for the Student Poster Award (100 euro)


Lau, S. H., & Hwang, H. (2016). The Effects of Frequency on Pronoun Production. Poster presented at the International Workshop on Language production in La Jolla, CA. [pdf]

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