About

Who We Are

The Polinsky Language Sciences Lab at Harvard University is a linguistics lab that examines questions of language structure and its effect on the ways in which people use and process language in real time. We engage in linguistic and interdisciplinary research projects ourselves; offer linguistic research capabilities for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and visitors; and build relationships with the linguistic communities in which we do our research.

Our Mission

Our research mission is: (1) to create and promote analytical approaches to language; (2) to use linguistic theory as a roadmap for understanding how people process language and to obtain meaningful results that feed back into syntactic theory; (3) to investigate cross-linguistic variation in language in order to better inform linguistic theory.

Our organizational mission is: (1) to foster interdisciplinary and collaborative projects that cannot be readily accomplished within the traditional setting of linguistics; (2) to build a scientific culture where faculty, students, and visitors work side by side and share each other’s ideas and approaches.

What We Work On

We are interested in a broad range of issues pertaining to syntax, interfaces, and cross-linguistic variation. We place a particular emphasis on novel experimental evidence that facilitates the construction of linguistic theory. We have a strong cross-linguistic focus, drawing upon English, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Mayan languages, Basque, Austronesian languages, languages of the Caucasus, and others. We believe that challenging existing theories with data from as broad a range of languages as possible is a crucial component of the successful development of linguistic theory.

Speakers We Study

We investigate both fluent speakers and heritage speakers—those who grew up hearing or speaking a particular language but who are now more fluent in a different, societally dominant language. Heritage languages, a novel field of linguistic inquiry, are important because they provide new insights into processes of linguistic development and attrition in general, thus increasing our understanding of the human capacity to maintain and acquire language. Understanding language use and processing in real time and how children acquire language helps us improve language study and pedagogy, which in turn improves communication across the globe. Although our lab does not specialize in language acquisition, we have conducted some studies of acquisition of lesser studied languages and heritage languages, with the purpose of comparing heritage speakers to adults.

Where We Go

The Lab is deeply committed to building and maintaining strong relationships with the linguistic communities in which we do our research; we have already established ties with several Mayan, Austronesian, and Northeast Caucasian communities. By more deeply understanding language, we can not only improve its study and teaching, but also improve communication in our increasingly global society.

Visiting the Lab

In order to get into the building, you will need to be buzzed in. To do this, you will need to call the lab using the intercom located downstairs. Simply press "3" on the keypad until you see the word "Harvard" on the display. Then press the pound button (#). This will connect you to the receptionist, who will buzz you in. The lab will be on the fourth floor.