My research is fundamentally curiosity-driven. I have a particular fascination for unruly facts that prompt us to innovate methods and theory. Plenty of those are available in the topics I have come to focus on, which include social interaction and iconicity.
My work on social interaction focuses on language in its natural ecology: conversation. In the past decade I helped pioneer a new field of pragmatic typology —the comparative study of conversational structures— and discovered some striking new universals of language along the way. I think the role of interaction in shaping language and cognition is greatly underestimated. A Vidi talent grant enables me to develop this work into an interdisciplinary research programme: ‘Elementary particles of conversation’ (2018-2024). See publications on interaction or read this paper:
- Dingemanse, Mark. 2020. Between Sound and Speech: Liminal Signs in Interaction. Research on Language and Social Interaction. Routledge 53(1). 188–196. (doi:10.1080/08351813.2020.1712967)
My work on iconicity —resemblance between aspects of form and meaning in language— is part of a new wave of research that shows iconicity to be of key importance in understanding cultural evolution, multimodal communication, and language learning. My empirical specialisation in this area is a special type of words known as ideophones, found in many of the world’s languages. A Veni talent grant (2014-2018) helped me develop this line of work, that started with my 2011 PhD thesis. See publications on iconicity or read this paper on construals of iconicity:
- Dingemanse, Mark & Perlman, Marcus & Perniss, Pamela. 2020. Construals of iconicity: experimental approaches to form–meaning resemblances in language. Language and Cognition. Cambridge University Press 12(1). 1–14. (doi:10.1017/langcog.2019.48)
Interwoven with all of the above is a consistent interest in theory and methods in the language sciences. This involves the full empirical cycle, from pioneering new methods in the field and in the lab to articulating new theoretical proposals. One thing I love about language is that it is a meeting point for diverse disciplines from across the humanities and cognitive and social sciences. This is also reflected in my work as consulting editor for Linguistics, Collabra, and the open access book series Conceptual Foundations of Language Science. See publications on theory and methods or read this short paper on how theoretical and empirical work depend on each other:
- Dingemanse, Mark. 2017. On the margins of language: Ideophones, interjections and dependencies in linguistic theory. In Enfield, N. J. (ed.), Dependencies in language, 195–202. Berlin: Language Science Press. (doi:10.5281/zenodo.573781)
Much of my work is collaborative and team-based. Within the Elementary Particles of Conversation project I work closely with postdoctoral researchers Marieke Woensdregt and Andreas Liesenfeld. I’m a PI in the Multimodal Language and Communication group at CLS/MPI and a member of the Communicative Alignment in Brain and Behaviour lab, funded by the Language in Interaction consortium.
International collaborators include Riccardo Fusaroli, Kristian Tylén, Christina Dideriksen and Morten Christiansen (Interacting Minds Center, Aarhus) and Christoph Rühlemann (Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies). With the Aarhus team we’ve replicated some of our work on the frequency of repair and shown that some measures of lexical alignment may pick up on repair sequences:
- Fusaroli, Riccardo & Tylén, Kristian & Garly, Katrine & Steensig, Jakob & Christiansen, Morten H. & Dingemanse, Mark. 2017. Measures and mechanisms of common ground: backchannels, conversational repair, and interactive alignment in free and task-oriented social interactions. In Gunzelmann, G. & Howes, A. & Tenbrink, T. & Davelaar, E. (eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 2055–2060. London.
On the topic of ideophones and iconicity I have a long running collaboration with Kimi Akita of Nagoya University. Further international collaborators on iconicity-related topics include Youngah Do and team (Hong Kong University), Bodo Winter and Marcus Perlman (Birmingham), and Márton Sóskuthy (UBC); and Alan Nielsen (Lethbridge). I’m really proud of the critical and constructive review of the literature on iconicity & word learning I wrote with Alan, in which we introduce a key distinction between local versus global learning enhancement:
- Nielsen, A. K. S.*, & Dingemanse, M*. (2020). Iconicity in Word Learning and Beyond: A Critical Review. Language and Speech. (doi:10.1177/0023830920914339) pdf (* joint first authors)
With regard to synaesthesia, I’m fortunate enough to work on with Tessa van Leeuwen (Donders Institute, Nijmegen) and more recently Christine Cuskley (Newcastle) and Simon Kirby (Edinburgh). Our work on vowel-colour associations has shown that practically everyone, synaesthete or not, link vowel and colour spaces in structurally similar ways, and that even the fully automatic colour associations of synaesthetes are modulated by linguistic knowledge:
- Cuskley*, Christine & Dingemanse*, Mark & Kirby, Simon & van Leeuwen, Tessa M. 2019. Cross-modal associations and synesthesia: Categorical perception and structure in vowel–color mappings in a large online sample. Behavior Research Methods 51(4). 1651–1675. (doi:10.3758/s13428-019-01203-7) (* joint first authors)
I’m currently supervising or co-supervising these PhD students:
- Bonnie McLean (with Michael Dunn), working on the phylogenetics of ideophones and iconicity. Bonnie is based at Uppsala University.
- Ada Lopez (with Andreas Liesenfeld), working on speech recognition, conversational corpora, and human methods for overlap resolution.
- Laura van de Braak (with Iris van Rooij, Mark Blokpoel and Ivan Toni), working on developing formal solutions and computational models of knowledge updating and mutual understanding in interaction. Laura is based at the Donders Center for Cognition.
- Tashi Bradford (co-supervisor with Onno Crasborn and Connie de Vos), working on mutual understanding and alignment in cross-signing.
- Sho Akamine (co-supervisor with Asli Özyürek and Antje Meyer), working on multimodal alignment in video-mediated interaction.
I’ve been privileged to supervise these PhDs:
- Dr. Marlou Rasenberg, postdoc at the Meertens Instituut in Amsterdam (cosupervised with Asli Özyürek). Marlou’s 2023 PhD thesis Mutual understanding from a multimodal and interactional perspective won the Graduate School for Humanities Award; her 2020 review is already highly cited.
- Dr. Julija Baranova, assistant professor in the Psychology and Language & Communication departments at Radboud University. Check out her thesis on Reason-giving in everyday activities (2020) or her first-author article Reasons for requests, nominated for Best Student Paper at the 2014 International Conference on Conversation Analysis.
- Dr. Luis Miguel Rojas-Berscia, postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Queensland. His 2019 PhD thesis From Kawapanan to Shawi: Topics in language variation and change won the Dutch Linguistic Society’s Prize for best Dissertation in Linguistics that year.
- Dr. Gwilym Lockwood, data scientist at The Information Lab in London and MS Paint artist extraordinaire. Check out his 2017 thesis Talking sense: The behavioural and neural correlates of sound symbolism or the widely cited review we did on ideophones and sound-symbolism.
I also served as external consultant and supervisor for the PhD dissertations of Dr. Nahyun Kwon (U. of Queensland, 2015), who I had the pleasure to host at the MPI for Psycholinguistics in 2014; and Dr. Karen Wu-Sanders (Tulane University, New Orleans, 2015).
Mentees, grants, awards
I’ve had some strokes of luck in the grant lottery, which I’m grateful for because it has allowed me to pretty much steer my own course in fundamental research.
I do not list solo grants on this page and I also feel it doesn’t make sense to list amounts of funding “won” — I know from painful experience that the process for the top ranked 20% of applications comes down to a lottery (and academia would probably be better if it were organized as such). However, I count myself fortunate to have been able to contribute as a PI or co-PI to the following grants directly supporting the careers of junior researchers:
- Netherlands eScience Center Digital Humanities Grant, supporting a research software engineer for a year (2023-2024)
- Dutch Research Council Vidi grant Elementary Particles of Conversation (2018-2024), supporting postdoc Marieke Woensdregt (2019-2021) and postdoc Andreas Liesenfeld (2021-2023)
- Radboud Excellence Fellowship supporting postdoc Alexandra Ćwiek (2022-2024, declined)
- Hong Kong University General Research Fund w/ PI Youngah Do, for a grant that supports postdoc Thomas van Hoey (2020-2022)
- Donders Institute for Cognition PhD grant w/ Iris van Rooij, Mark Blokpoel and Ivan Toni, supporting PhD student Laura van de Braak (2019-2023)
- Language in Interaction Big Question grant w/ Ivan Toni, Asli Özyürek, and Iris van Rooij, supporting PhD student Marlou Rasenberg (2018-2022)
- Language Evolution Scholars in Nijmegen (Levinson awards), supporting postdocs Marcus Perlman and Alan Nielsen (2016-2018)
As for awards, I am in two minds about listing them. They are an imperfect way to recognize scientific work because they so often foreground singular achievements or people. At the same time, they are one of the few ways in which we can get recognition for unconventional work. I am proud of that. Three of the awards below are collective and/or aimed at bodies of work, fitting the team-based nature of much that I do.
- With Andreas Liesenfeld: CLS Award for Outstanding Research (2023), for work “with a major scholarly impact on the field”, awarded for our paper “From text to talk“. This is the first paper (of many) we wrote together in the NWO-funded Elementary Particles of Conversation project.
- Heineken Young Scientist Award in Humanities, awarded by the Royal Netherlands Academy for Arts and Sciences for “outstanding work that sets an example for other young scientists and scholars” (2020). I am particularly happy with this award because it explicitly recognizes the unconventional nature of my work and rewards contributions towards open scholarship and science communication.
- With Tessa van Leeuwen: Radboud Science Award for breakthrough research on language and synaesthesia (2020). This award recognizes a productive decade-long collaboration between me as a linguist and Tessa as a neurobiologist, which culminated in several new transdisciplinary findings and methodological innovations.
- With Nick Enfield and Francisco Torreira: Ig Nobel prize for our discovery that ‘Huh?’ is probably a universal word (2015). The Ig Nobels are awarded for achievements that “first make you laugh, then think”, which certainly captures at least some of the responses to this research that was covered in the NYT and went viral in 2013.
- Otto Hahn Medal for outstanding scientific achievements, from the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (2013).
- AVT/Anéla Award for Best Dissertation in Linguistics (2012), for my fieldwork-based PhD thesis on the meaning and use of ideophones in Siwu.