Just below our awareness, small words like mm, huh? and oh streamline interaction and scaffold complex language. These words, and a few more, are the elementary particles that hold together everyday conversations. Yet we know very little about where they come from, how they get their shape, and how they help us talk and think.

Understanding these highly adaptive communicative tools will shed light on key properties of language and can help us improve conversational agents. We combine computational models and comparative work on conversations across the globe to study how language is shaped by and for social interaction.

Check out our team, or have a look at our papers and public outreach work to learn more.

© James Yang for our 2014 piece in Scientific American