Matt Wagers

I am a linguist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, whose focus is psycholinguistics. My collaborators and I are trying to learn about the structure of language and the mechanisms by which the mind enables language understanding and production.

I teach courses at both Graduate and Undergraduate levels on Psycholinguistics, Experimental Design, Language and Memory, Language and the Mind and (occasionally) Syntax.

I completed 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

I am interested in 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

I am 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. I've worked closely with my two collaborators Sandra Chung (UCSC) and Manuel F. Borja (Inetnon ├ůmot yan Kutturan Natibu, CNMI). Our research was supported by the NSF (2013-2016).

  • - Wagers, Matthew, Borja, Manuel F., & Chung, Sandra. Grammatical licensing and relative clause parsing in a flexible word-order language. March 2017 Manuscript (OSF)
  • - Competition among pronouns in Chamorro grammar and sentence processing. handout used at AFLA24
  • - Wagers, Matthew, Borja, Manuel F., & Chung, Sandra. () The real-time comprehension of wh-dependencies in a Wh-Agreement language. Language, 91, 109-144. Open Access via eScholarship and 10.1353/lan.2015.0001 (publisher)

Students in 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.

Experimental Linguistics

  • Morgan, A., & Wagers, M. English Resumptive Pronouns are More Common where Gaps are Less Acceptable. Linguistic Inquiry, in press. Preprint here: