Are you interested in working with me? Does my research sound exciting and interesting? Are you wondering if I'm the advisor, and this is the department, for you? If so, you've come to the right place!

So, first of all, let's start with what I do: Most of my research involves conducting experiments in which participants communicate using artificial languages, or have to construct new “ laboratory languages” from scratch. The point is to try to learn about change and variation in natural languages by looking at something in the lab that resembles natural language, but is smaller and easier to mess with. If you're interested in language change and variation but you have no interest in experimental approaches, then I'm probably not be the advisor for you! So are you interested in experiments? You don't need to have much experience in conducting them, but you do at least need to have some idea that you'd be interested in learning how to conduct them.

Second, do you know what cultural evolution is? Now, it's actually fine if you don't know. (Most people don't.) But sometimes people get a bit misled by the term; and it turns out that they thought they wanted to work with me on the basis of that, but actually don't. Cultural evolution is most easily defined in contrast to biological evolution, which is about change in gene frequencies over generations. Cultural evolution is basically about change in the distribution of cultural entities over time; in the context of language the relevant entities might be phonemes, morphemes, words, syntactic constructions etc. That's what I'm interested in studying: language change and variation (through a somewhat evolutionary lens), along with questions of where language comes from and why it is as it is. Is that true of you too?

Third, assuming you checked the first two boxes: Are you actually interested in Language? If (the simplest route to be advised by me) you're thinking of applying to the Linguistics Department at Penn: Do you want to spend two years taking classes on things like syntax and phonology, and to spend several years longer among people who are really into these things?

Fourth, there are a few things I get asked about quite often but am not very interested in working on. For instance, I'm not very interested in working on the linguistic relativity hypothesis (the hypothesis that the language a person speaks exercises a significant influence on their perception of the world). I'm also not especially interested in working on internet memes (unless there's a particularly interesting connection with language evolution).

All these things can essentially be summed up as follows: Are you genuinely interested in studying language change and variation by using interesting experimental methods?

If your answer to that question is an enthusiastic yes, then please do get in touch now! Please include the codeword “penguin” in your email. That way I'll know that you've read this page carefully.