Research

My research generally focuses on the meaning of words. In previous externally funded projects (Rubicon, Veni, both funded by NWO) I investigated the flexibility of lexical meaning, both from a theoretical and psycholinguistic perspective. Why do we (for example) so easily interpret the word lion as referring to a non-living artifact in a phrase like stone lion? And how do we choose between possible interpretations when we hear word like coffee (the liquid, the beans, etc.)? In my work I propose a view on the lexicon in which the meaning of words is overspecified in our mental lexicon and these overspecified representations are weakened in a context. A word typically activates all meaning aspects associated with a word, and the ones that are in conflict with the particular context in which the word occurred are subsequently suppressed. 

A special focus area is formed by discourse particles, like toch, eigenlijk and wel. I investigated several aspects concerning discourse particles, such as their semantics and how they are acquired in a first or second language. Together with colleagues I investigated the semantics of the additive particle ook, the first language acquisition of ook and wel and the second language acquisition of the German particle doch

I am also involved in the NWO-funded project lead by Helen de Hoop that investigates the impact of the use of a polite or informal pronoun on the addressee.

More recently, I became interested in more societally relevant aspects of word meaning, as they for example manifest themselves in discussions concerning politically (in)correct words. Partly funded by two CLS Small Research Grants, I for example investigated the use of so-called slurs, pejorative terms for groups of people, on social media. My assumption is that such words, and the controversy that they often give rise to, can tell us a lot about how we store and use the meaning of words in general.