About me (my CV and google citations)

I am an assistant professor in the Cognitive Science Department at Johns Hopkins University. I teach courses on psycholinguistics and first language acquisition.

I was born and brought up in a city called Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan. In my spare time, I enjoy studying the magical taste of beer, wine and single malt whisky, as well as playing/watching soccer, skiing, and (badly) playing ukulele.

PhD students working with me

Lisa Hsin, Emily Atkinson, Esther Chung

My research

My primary research interests are in adult/child sentence processing, first language acquisition of morphosyntax, and (experimental) syntax. Sentence processing and language learning pose the same problem: The target abstract structural representations need to be identified despite the fact that a) input provides no direct evidence for the target representations, and b) there are many structural/grammatical hypotheses compatible with the input. Globally speaking, I'm interested in how these identification processes are constrained by linguistic knowledge as well as cognitive mechanisms like attention and memory.

To approach this problem, I focus on the development of sentence processing mechanisms as it provides useful insights on theories of both sentence processing mechanisms and language acquisition.

1. Parser development and its implication to adult parsing:
My lab investigates not only how adults understand and produce language, but also how the parsing mechanism develops over time. There are several reasons why this is useful for understanding sentence processing mechanisms. First, children sometimes show much more dramatic failures in sentence comprehension, which allows us to probe the details of parsing constraints that may be masked in adults' efficient processing. Second, we may be able to inspect the relation between grammatical knowledge and parsing much more directly; given that children are learning grammatical knowledge, we can see how the development on the grammar side affects the parsing behavior (and vice versa). Third, current models of sentence processing have no theory of how the system emerges, and this question can provide further theoretical and empirical testing grounds (Poeppel & Omaki, 2008). Finally, parser development can shed light on the nature of syntactic priming phenomena, which could result from a maintenance of syntactic representations in working memory or from a long-term procedural adaptation.

2. Child parsing and language acquisition:
Recent research on language acquisition has emphasized that children are sophisticated 'data analysts' who can use statistical regularities in the input to infer properties of the target language. While this line of research remains important, this perspective often leaves aside the fact that children also need to be 'data collectors' by perceiving and encoding the input with their own parsers, as the input must be converted to mental representations (called 'intake') that can feed learning processes. However, children's parsers are immature and often mis-parse sentences in a non-adult-like way, which indicate that the input distribution may be skewed and not be veridically represented in their mind (Omaki 2010). In this sense, understanding the child parser is critical for understanding the process of language acquisition. This line of work will eventually have implications for grammatical theories, because understanding the nature of input/intake available to children should constrain theories of what needs to be innately given to children.

I investigate these questions in my language processing and development lab, primarily using behavioral experiments and eye-tracking techniques with both adults and children. I also collaborate with my colleagues abroad (especially Japan and Switzerland) to conduct cross-linguistic comparative research on sentence processing and language acquisition.


Cognitive Science Department
Johns Hopkins University
Room 237 Krieger Hall
3400 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD, 21218

Office: Krieger 243
Phone: 410-516-4945
Email: omaki at jhu dot edu