Research


I am interested in how bilingual speakers manage the fluent use of their two languages. Much of the literature on bilingual language processing in the past decade has shown that bilinguals activate both of their languages even when they intend to use a single language. Both languages become momentarily active regardless of whether the intended language is the (often weaker) second language or the (often dominant) native language. In my work, I investigate whether bilinguals can exploit contextual and linguistic cues, such as the requirement to use one language and not the other or differences between languages, to select the intended language for production. I also investigate cognitive mechanisms that underlie language selection.

Linguistic mechanisms of language selection

Overall, I show that it is difficult for bilinguals to reduce activation of the unintended language. The requirement to read only in Spanish or only in English does not change the extent to which both languages are activated for highly proficient Spanish-English bilinguals. We observe similar magnitudes of co-activation for these single language conditions as for conditions in which both languages are required (Gullifer, Kroll, & Dussias, 2013). My work on language selection has been featured in some press releases (e.g., by the NSF and by Frontiers) and by various media outlets (e.g., Penn State News, Science Daily, and Psych Central).

In my dissertation (funded by an NSF Dissertation Research Improvement Grant), I am focusing on whether bilinguals who are fluent speakers of Spanish and English can use syntactic structures that are specific to Spanish to reduce or eliminate co-activation from English.

Cognitive mechanisms of language selection

I am also interested in the cognitive mechanisms that underlie bilingual language processing. Many studies show that bilinguals recruit inhibitory mechanisms to suppress co-activation from the unintended language and a growing body of literature suggests that a life-time of experience using inhibitory mechanisms can result in a bilingual benefit to executive function and a reduction in age-related decline in comparison to monolingual speakers. However, a question of interest is the universality of such inhibitory mechanisms. The majority of the bilinguals tested in psycholinguistic experiments are highly educated, literate adults who are attending or who have attended research universities, but this profile does not represent all language users. In collaboration with Dr. Paola Dussias and Timothy Poepsel (Dussias, Gullifer, & Poepsel, under review), we show that bilingual speakers of Spanish and Palenquero, a creole language spoken in Columbia and that traditionally has had no standardized writing system recruit the same type of inhibition as the bilinguals who are typically recruited for psycholinguistic experiments. To our knowledge, this may be the first reported study on language control in a population of creole-speaking bilinguals.

Undergraduate and Post-Baccalaureate Experiences

Undergraduate Research

I received my undergraduate degree in Linguistics and Psychology from The University of Massachusetts Amherst. At UMass, I worked in the Eyetracking Lab under the direction of Drs. Charles Clifton and Lyn Frazier. There, I got the experience of designing an experiment on which I wrote my undergraduate thesis (linked here).

Post-baccalaureate Research

Following my undergraduate studies, I joined the Penn State community as a "Research Technologist" in the Center for Language Science. The CLS is an interdisciplinary group of linguists, psycholinguists, applied linguists, speech-language pathologists, speech scientists, and cognitive neuroscientists who share a common interest in language acquisition and bilingualism. From 2007 - 2009, I was the resident webmaster for the CLS and conducted various administrative duties.

In addition to working in the Center for Language Science, I also spent a large amount of my time working in the ISÍ (I see) Eye-tracking Laboratory with Dr. Paola Dussias. There, I helped to develop an eyetracking experiment using the Visual World Paradigm. The experiment explores the role of gender-marked articles in the processing of spoken Spanish-English codeswitched utterances. The results were presented recently at the International Symposium on Bilingualism in July 2009.

Why psycholinguistics?

Language has always fascinated me. I first became interested in different languages when I was young. In elementary school, I couldn't wait for Middle School to come around because that meant I could start learning German. Then in college, after taking a few linguistics classes, I quickly realized that it wasn't just different languages that interested me, but language in general; specifically, how people produce and process language.