The Meaning Lab studies what people know about meaning in language, and how our most expert language learners (young children!) acquire that knowledge. Our research combines cutting-edge thought in linguistics, philosophy, and cognitive psychology to investigate this most remarkable human ability: the capacity to produce and understand language.


Language is a uniquely human capacity, and it plays a central role in very many of the activities humans engage in. But, what is it? And how do young children acquire it so quickly, and with so little apparent effort? Why don't our pets learn human-like language? Language scientists and engineers have been hard at work for more than half a century trying to find answers to these questions.


The Meaning Lab studies how adults and children understand and learn the meanings of words and sentences. But we don't study the meanings of words like "cow" and "teacup"; instead, we focus on aspects of language that we tend to think less about; for example, every, most, or the. Kids have little trouble figuring out their meanings, but such questions continue to vex researchers.


Our principal investigator, Alexis Wellwood, founded the Meaning Lab in August of 2017, after arriving from Northwestern University where she created and led the ChiLDlab. The Meaning Lab produces new knowledge at the very frontiers of inquiry in philosophy and cognitive science. Learn about our NSF-funded projects and publications from both labs here!

Latest News

A big welcome to our new research assistants!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Meaning Lab is excited to welcome our three new research assistants, Shawn Kim, Prim Phoolsombat, and Adeline Wang! They are all sophomores at USC. Shawn studies Philosophy, Politics, and Law with a minor in Forensics and Criminality. Prim is majoring in Computational Linguistics. Adeline is pursuing a double major in Linguistic and Cinema & Media Studies. They're excited to learn more about the science of language, and will be involved in multiple projects already going on in the lab, and will help brainstorm new projects to pursue. Bringing different perspectives, talents, and skillsets, they will contribute greatly to the diversity and vitality of our lab. A big welcome to Shawn, Prim, and Adeline!

How can you help?

Our research depends on you. If you are a parent of a young child, a visit to our lab typically involves playing short, fun games with your child designed to capture the moment of learning the meaning of a novel word. Click below to learn more! If you are a USC undergraduate, a visit typically involves interacting with a computer for 30-60 minutes; send us an email to let us know you're interested in coming in!