Matt Wagers


I am a linguist at the University of California, Santa Cruz and my focus is language processing — especially the processing of syntactic information and its representation in memory.

My courses at UCSC are offered at both Graduate and Undergraduate levels on Psycholinguistics, Experimental Design, Language and Memory, Language and the Mind and (occasionally) Syntax.

I did my Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of Maryland (2008), where Colin Phillips was my supervisor. Before that, I did an A.B. in Molecular Biology at Princeton University (2003).

Lab members

Research areas

Syntax and memory management

A major focus in our lab is the problem of how compositional representations are segmented in memory. And how linguistic feature systems control access to those memories via prediction and retrieval. A recent paper on complex subjects and retrieval interference:

And a recent paper on how ambiguity is represented, which combines tools from signal detection theory with data from acceptability tasks:
  • Dillon, B., Andrews, C., Rotello, C. M., & Wagers, M. (). A new argument for co-active parses during language comprehension. Preprint here: Repository for materials, data and analysis code.

Psycholinguistics outside the lab

My collaborators and I are invested in the contribution smaller or lesser-studied languages ought to make to psycholinguistic theories. For the past several years, I've been investigating language processing in Chamorro, an Austronesian language of the Mariana Islands. In this effort I've worked jointly with Sandra Chung (UCSC) and Manuel F. Borja (Inetnun Åmut yan Kutturan Natibu, CNMI). Our research was supported by the NSF (2013-2016).

Members of my lab have also been approaching problems in language processing from the perspective of underinvestigated languages. Jed Pizarro-Guevara has been working on the predictive value of Voice in interpreting A-bar dependencies in Tagalog. And Steven Foley has been investigating the informativity of case in a split-ergative language, using the relative clause system of Georgian. Finally Maziar Toosarvandani and I are co-conveners of z/lab, whose current project is competition among gaps and pronouns in Zapotec sentence processing. A recent presentation on our initial findings was given at the LSA Annual Meeting (New York, January 2019):

  • - Pronouns over gaps in parsing? Relative clause parsing in Santiago Laxopa Zapotec. 93rd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, New York, NY (Jan 6-9, 2019). With Steven Foley, Jed Pizarro-Guevara, Kelsey Sasaki, Fe Silva Robles, & Maziar Toosarvandani. Slides.

Experimental linguistics

Some recent papers & projects where methods in experimental syntax, semantics or pragmatics have shed light on old problems:
  • - Morgan, A., & Wagers, M. English Resumptive Pronouns are More Common where Gaps are Less Acceptable. Linguistic Inquiry, in press. Postprint:
  • - Kroll, M., & Wagers, M. Is working memory sensitive to discourse status? Experimental evidence from responsive appositives. Poster presented at XPrag 2017, Cologne, Germany, Jun 21-23, 2017. Poster:
  • - Anand, P., Andrews, C., Farkas, D., & Wagers, M. (2011). The exclusive interpretation of plural nominals in quantificational environments. In N. Ashton, A. Chereches, & D. Lutz (Eds.) Proceedings of. the 21st Semantics and Linguistic Theory Conference. 176-196. Postprint.