Portrait of Dr Christina Kim

Dr Christina Kim

Lecturer in Linguistics


Dr Christina Kim joined the Department of English Language and Linguistics in October 2013. She received her PhD in Brain & Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics from the University of Rochester, New York, in 2012, where she investigated the interpretation and generation of focus alternatives in discourse using Visual World eye-tracking. 

As a postdoctoral researcher, Christina worked in the Linguistics Department at the University of Chicago, and extended her PhD research to the domain of context dependence in gradable adjectives.

More information is available on Christina's personal website.

Research interests

Christina is interested in how language interpretation and use is situated in context. She approaches these questions from a processing perspective, drawing on methodologies from experimental psychology and cognitive science. 

Christina is Director of the newly established Linguistics Laboratory in the Department of English Language and Linguistics.  


Christina teaches semantics, pragmatics, and quantitative research methods in linguistics.



  • Zajaczkowska, M., Abbot-Smith, K. and Kim, C. (2020). Using shared knowledge to determine ironic intent; a conversational response paradigm. Journal of Child Language [Online]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0305000920000045.
    Mentalising has long been suggested to play an important role in irony interpretation. We hypothesised that another important cognitive underpinning of irony interpretation is likely to be childen’s capacity for mental set switching – the ability to switch flexibly between different approaches to the same task. We experimentally manipulated mentalising and set switching to investigate their effects on the ability of 7-year-olds to determine if an utterance is intended ironically or literally. The component of mentalising examined was whether the speaker and listener shared requisite knowledge. We developed a paradigm in which children had to select how a listener might reply, depending on whether the listener shared knowledge needed to interpret the utterance as ironic. Our manipulation of requisite set switching found null results. However, we are the first to show experimentally that children as young as seven years use mentalising to determine whether an utterance is intended ironically or literally.
  • The Division of Labor in Explanations of Verb Phrase Ellipsis (2018). Linguistics and Philosophy [Online] 41:41-85. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10988-017-9220-0.
    In this paper, we will argue that, of the various grammatical and discourse constraints that affect acceptability in Verb Phrase Ellipsis (VPE), only the structural parallelism constraint is unique to VPE. We outline (previously noted) systematic problems that arise for classical structural accounts of VPE resolution, and discuss efforts in recent research on VPE to reduce explanations of acceptability in VPE to general well-formedness constraints at the level of information structure [e.g. Kehler, 2000, 2002, Kertz, 2013, Kehler, 2015]. In two magnitude estimation experiments, we show that — in line with Kehler’s predictions — degradation due to structural mismatch is modulated by coherence relation. On the other hand, we consistently find residual structural mismatch effects, suggesting that the interpretation of VPE is sensitive to structural features of the VPE antecedent. We propose that a structural constraint licenses VPE, but that sentences violating this constraint can nevertheless be interpreted. The variability in acceptability is accounted for not by additional constraints on VPE in the grammar, but by the numerous general biases that affect sentence and discourse well-formedness, such as information structural constraints [as proposed by Kertz, 2013], discourse coherence relations Kehler [2000], sensitivity to Question Under Discussion structure [e.g. Ginzburg and Sag, 2000, Kehler, 2015], and thematic role bias at the lexical level [e.g. McRae et al., 1998]. We test the prediction that thematic role bias (Experiment 3) and QUD structure (Experiment 4) will influence both elliptical and non-elliptical sentences alike, while structural mismatch continues to degrade elliptical sentences alone. Our proposal differs from existing proposals in cutting the explanatory pie in a different way with respect to how variations in acceptability are accounted for. We suggest that degradation can result from at least two distinct and separable sources: violating construction-specific grammatical constraints, or from complexity differences in interpretation related to very general discourse level information.
  • Kim, C., Gunlogson, C., Tanenhaus, M. and Runner, J. (2015). Context-driven Expectations about Focus Alternatives. Cognition [Online] 139:28-49. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2015.02.009.
    What is conveyed by a sentence frequently depends not only on the descriptive content carried by its words, but also on implicit alternatives determined by the context of use. Four visual world eye-tracking experiments examined how alternatives are generated based on aspects of the discourse context and used in interpreting sentences containing the focus operators 'only' and 'also'. Experiment 1 builds on previous reading time studies showing that the interpretations of 'only' sentences are constrained by alternatives explicitly mentioned in the preceding discourse, providing fine-grained time course information about the expectations triggered by 'only'. Experiments 2 and 3 show that, in the absence of explicitly mentioned alternatives, lexical and situation-based categories evoked by the context are possible sources of alternatives. While Experiments 1–3 all demonstrate the discourse dependence of alternatives, only explicit mention triggered expectations about alternatives that were specific to sentences with 'only'. By comparing 'only' with 'also', Experiment 4 begins to disentangle expectations linked to the meanings of specific operators from those generalizable to the class of focus-sensitive operators. Together, these findings show that the interpretation of sentences with focus operators draws on both dedicated mechanisms for introducing alternatives into the discourse context and general mechanisms associated with discourse processing.
  • Kim, C., Carbary, K. and Tanenhaus, M. (2013). Syntactic Priming without Lexical Overlap in Reading Comprehension. Language and Speech [Online] 57:181-195. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0023830913496052.
    Syntactic priming without lexical overlap is well-documented in language production. In contrast, reading-time comprehension studies, which typically use locally ambiguous sentences, generally find syntactic priming only with lexical overlap. This asymmetry has led some researchers to propose that distinct mechanisms underlie the comprehension and production of syntactic structure. Instead, we propose that methodological differences in how priming is assessed are largely responsible for the asymmetry: in comprehension, lexical biases in a locally ambiguous target sentence may overwhelm the influence of syntactic priming effects on a reader’s interpretation. We addressed these issues in a self-paced reading study by (1) using target sentences containing global attachment ambiguities, (2) examining a syntactic structure which does not involve an argument of the verb, and (3) factoring out the unavoidable lexical biases associated with the target sentences in a mixed-effects regression model. Under these conditions, syntactic priming affected how ambiguous sentences were parsed, and facilitated reading times when target sentences were parsed using the primed structure. This resolves discrepancies among previous findings, and suggests that the same mechanism underlies syntactic priming in comprehension and production.
  • Kim, C., Kobele, G., Runner, J. and Hale, J. (2011). The Acceptability Cline in VP Ellipsis. Syntax [Online] 14:318-354. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9612.2011.00160.x.
    This paper lays the foundations for a processing model of relative acceptability levels in verb phrase ellipsis (VPE). In the proposed model, mismatching VPE examples are grammatical but less acceptable because they violate heuristic parsing strategies. This analysis is presented in a Minimalist Grammar formalism that is compatible with standard parsing techniques. The overall proposal integrates computational assumptions about parsing with a psycholinguistic linking hypothesis. These parts work together with the syntactic analysis to derive novel predictions that are confirmed in a controlled experiment.

Book section

  • Kim, C. (2019). Focus. In: Cummins, C. and Katsos, N. eds. The Oxford Handbook of Experimental Semantics and Pragmatics. Oxford University Press, pp. 418-435. Available at: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-oxford-handbook-of-experimental-semantics-and-pragmatics-9780198791768?cc=gb&lang=en&#.
  • Kim, C. (2015). Presupposition Satisfaction, Locality and Discourse Constituency. In: Schwarz, F. ed. Experimental Perspectives on Presuppositions. Springer. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-07980-6.
  • Kim, C. and Runner, J. (2011). Discourse parallelism and VP ellipsis. In: Harris, J. A. and Grant, M. eds. UMass Occasional Papers in Linguistics: Processing Linguistic Structure. Amherst, MA: GLSA Publications. Available at: https://www.createspace.com/3695226.

Conference or workshop item

  • When children use shared knowledge to interpret irony (2019). In: Child Language Symposium. Available at: https://sites.google.com/a/sheffield.ac.uk/clshef2019/home.
    For an ironic meaning to be successfully conveyed, a speaker and listener need to know what information they share. Thus, if a speaker says (1) where the listener can see that the footballer missed the goal, then they share the knowledge needed for the listener to infer that (1) is ironic. However, if the listener is in another room, then this knowledge is not shared and thus the listener may interpret this literally.

    (1) That was a great shot!”

    This kind of understanding of what others know is often referred to as Theory of Mind. Irony interpretation is also likely to incur an Executive Function (EF) load. Previous studies investigating the role of either Theory of Mind or EF on irony interpretation in children have used correlational designs. The only exception is a study by Nilsen, Glenwright and Huyder (2011), who presented children with vignettes similar to the one above in which a speaker and listener either shared the knowledge necessary for the listener to understand the ironic intent (SHARED KNOWLEDGE CONDITION) or the listener did not have visual access to the requisite knowledge (NON-SHARED KNOWLEDGE CONDITION). They found that 7-year-olds olds did not take the shared knowledge into account when determining how the listener would interpret the utterances.
    However, this study – like almost all others in the field of irony interpretation – required children to give meta-pragmatic judgements; that is, they had to say whether the listener believed that the shot was good or bad. Meta-pragmatic ability develops slowly and indeed may not relate to actual pragmatic language ability (e.g. Collins, Lockton & Adams, 2014). Therefore, in the current study, we developed a more ecologically valid measure; children were instead asked to decide which out of two responses the listener might give as a reply (see (2) versus (3).
    (2) LITERAL INTERPREATION: Was it? So our team won?
    (3) IRONIC INTERPRETATION: I know! It’s a pity that he missed.
    In addition to the within-subjects manipulation of Shared vs. Non-Shared Knowledge, we also assigned our 7-year-old participants (N = 78) to one of three between-subjects Flexibility conditions, to determine whether the interpretation of irony is more difficult if participants are required to switch between Shared versus Non-Shared Knowledge vignettes (= high EF load) than when participants are administered each condition in blocks.
    A binomial mixed effect model found that 7-year-olds do take shared knowledge into account when selecting the listener’s response (p < .001). There was no main effect or interaction with Flexibility condition. We are thus the first to experimentally demonstrate the role of Theory of Mind in how children as young as seven years interpret ironic utterances.
  • Kim, C. and Chamorro, G. (2019). Perceived Social Proximity Influences Convergence in Dialogue. In: XPRAG (Experimental Pragmatics Conference) 2019.
  • Kim, C. and Chamorro, G. (2019). Perceived social proximity influences convergence in dialogue. In: Experimental Pragmatics Conference.
    Evidence from phonetic imitation studies has shown that listeners adapt their speech to be more similar to that of a speaker they have prior exposure to [1-2]. Furthermore, the extent of convergence appears to be modulated by listeners’ perceptions of speaker characteristics such as the attractiveness of their voice, or the typicality of their accent [3]. Both social and cognitive explanations have been proposed: convergence could be motivated by the listener wanting to increase their similarity to an ‘in-group’ or socially well-positioned individual, or by automatic processes that detect speech characteristics like typicality or distinctiveness [3-5]. The current study extends the logic of this work to the structural domain, asking whether listeners’ adaptation of syntactic forms they produce depends on their perceptions about their interlocutor’s social proximity and linguistic competence.

    We use structural priming [6-7] as a measure of listeners’ convergence with their interlocutor. Structural priming has been a useful tool for probing abstract syntactic representations in large part due to its implicit nature [8], which has led some researchers to liken it to implicit procedural learning [9]. Here, we compare priming in conversations between (i) pairs of native speakers of the same dialect (Exp1-2), (ii) native and non-native speakers (Exp1-2), and (iii) native speakers of two dialects of the same language (Exp 2), to assess to what extent interlocutor characteristics influence convergence or divergence of syntactic forms in dialogue.

    Experiment 1. Participants played a picture-matching game which involved taking turns with another speaker to describe scenes depicting ditransitive events (e.g. “Harry showed Hermione the painting”) using the verb provided. Participants heard a recorded voice and were told to make their descriptions to be maximally clear to the speaker in the recording, who would have to perform the same task using the participant’s descriptions. Speaker type (native British English speaker/NS, non-native Spanish-accented speaker/NNS) was manipulated between subjects. All recordings used double object (DO) structures. Half were acceptable in English; the other half used verbs that do not participate in the dative alternation in English,
    creating anomalous sentences (e.g. “Hermione described Ron the monument”).

    Responses were coded as DO, PD (prepositional dative), or other. Unaggregated responses were fitted with separate mixed-effects regression models
    predicting DO responses, with subject and item included as random effects. Verb type (alternating, non-alternating), trial number, and speaker type (NS, NNS), and all two-way interactions were included as predictors. Fixed effects were removed from the model using stepwise model comparison if they did not improve model fit or were collinear with other model terms. Unsurprisingly, alternating verbs were more effective primes than non-alternating ones (β=.15, p<.05). However, this advantage was stronger for NNS than NS (β=.31, p<.0001): participants produced more anomalous DO structures when interacting with a NS who also used those structures (see [10] for another priming study involving syntactically anomalous sentences).

    Why might listeners be more likely to produce anomalous structures if it means converging with the syntax of another native speaker? First, listeners may adapt more to speakers that they perceived to have native competence in the language, which is indicative of their level of certainty with respect to the acceptability of syntactic forms (Competence hypothesis). This is supported by [11], who show that ungrammaticality is more likely to be interpreted as misperception for typical native speakers than for native speakers with atypical dialects or L2 speakers. Second, listeners may adapt more to speakers that they perceived to be socially similar to themselves, as indicated by the accent associated with their dialect or non-native status (Social proximity hypothesis). Existing work suggests that at least phonetic alignment is sensitive to social signalling pressures [5]. Finally, listeners may treat different dialects and different L1s alike in terms of their likelihood of having syntactic differences from their native dialect (Different
    grammars hypothesis). [4] show that same-dialect dyads show greater phonetic convergence than both different-dialect and different-L1 dyads. The same pattern at the syntactic level would suggest that listeners assess not nativeness, but the plausibility of a speaker having a different grammar (as with a different dialect or L1).

    Experiment 2. The same procedure was used as in Experiment 1, with two changes. First, live confederates were used instead of recordings. Participants and confederates communicated over headsets from adjacent testing rooms. Second, there were three Speaker types, manipulated between subjects: native British English/BrE, native North American English/NAm, and non-native (Spanish-accented)/NNS. The NAm speaker condition provides an important test case for the above hypotheses: it is predicted to pattern with the BrE condition (showing more priming/convergence than the NNS condition) if competence is what drives convergence, but with the NNS condition (less priming than the BrE condition) if listeners are assessing the likelihood of the speaker’s grammar allowing different syntactic forms. If convergence is driven by perceived social distance as approximated by the speaker’s accent, the BrE condition should show the most priming, followed by NAm, with the least priming in the NNS condition.

    To assess listeners’ perception of their interlocutors, they were asked where they thought the speaker was from, and how they would describe their usage of English (Fig. 1). As their perception of the speaker’s origin became more distant, listeners became less likely to respond that the speaker spoke similarly to them (UK: 48.3%; US: 84.0%; Europe: 93.9%). Listeners were less likely to indicate that the speaker used language differently from themselves when the speaker was perceived to be from the UK (UK: 51.7%; US: 16.0%; Europe: 3.0%), despite the fact that all confederates used scripts, and therefore produced the same grammatical and anomalous forms.

    Preliminary data suggest that rates of structural priming for non-alternating verbs follow listeners’ judgments: the extent of convergence is predicted by perception of social proximity, arguing against an explanation of convergence that relies solely on perceptions of native competence.

    References. [1] Goldinger. 1998. Psych Rev. [2] Namy, et al. 2002. J Lang Soc Psych. [3] Babel, et al. 2014. LabPhon. [4] Kim, et al. 2011. LabPhon. [5] Babel. 2010. Lang in Society. [6] Bock. 1986. Cog Psych. [7] Pickering and Branigan. 1998. JML. [8] Bock & Griffin. 2000. JEP: Gen. [9] Chang, et al. 2000. J Psycholinguistic Res. [10] Ivanova, et al. 2012. JML. [11] Brehm, et al. 2018. Quarterly J Exp Psych.
  • Kim, C. and Scott, J. (2018). Modelling the experience of reading fiction. In: 2018 Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain. Available at: http://www.lagb.org.uk/programme2018.
  • Kim, C. and Scott, J. (2018). Building fictional worlds: Towards a cognitive model of the reading experience. In: Cognitive Futures in the Arts and Humanities.
  • Kim, C. and Chamorro, G. (2018). Awareness of Linguistic Competence Influences Structural Priming. In: Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing. Available at: https://amor.cms.hu-berlin.de/~knoeferp/AMLaP2018/Program_files/AMLaP2018_proceedings.pdf.
  • Kim, C. and Reksnes, V. (2017). Expectations about imprecise language use are speaker-dependent. In: Linguistics Society of America Annual Meeting. Available at: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/event/lsa-2018-annual-meeting.
  • Kim, C. and Salhi, L. (2017). Contrast across discourse. In: 2017 Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain. Available at: http://www.lagb.org.uk/workshop.
  • Kim, C. and Reksnes, V. (2017). Speaker-specific expectations about precision. In: Architectures and Mechanisms for Language Processing. Available at: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/amlap2017/.
  • Kim, C. and Salhi, L. (2017). Visual contrast, discourse contrast and conceptual convention. In: Experimental Pragmatics Conference. Available at: http://www.xprag.de/?page_id=4172.
  • Kim, C. and Runner, J. (2009). Strict Identity, Coherence, and Parallelism in VP Ellipsis. In: Semantics and Linguistic Theory. Linguistic Society of America, pp. 275-287. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/salt.v19i0.2535.
  • Kim, C., Gunlogson, C., Tanenhaus, M. and Runner, J. (2009). Inferential Cues for Determining Focus Alternatives: a Visual World Eye-tracking Study. In: Klinedinst, N. and Rothschild, D. eds. European Summer School in Logic, Language and Information Workshop: New Directions in the Theory of Presupposition.
  • Kim, C., Gunlogson, C., Tanenhaus, M. and Runner, J. (2008). Focus Alternatives and Contextual Domain Restriction: A Visual World Eye-tracking Study on the Interpretation of `Only’. In: Riester, A. and Solstad, T. eds. Sinn Und Bedeutung.
  • Kim, C., Gunlogson, C., Tanenhaus, M. and Runner, J. (2008). Information Integration and Domain Restriction: Interpreting ’Only’ in Context. In: Abner, N. and Bishop, J. eds. West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
  • Kim, C. (2007). Processing Presupposition: Verifying Sentences with ‘Only’. In: Tauberer, J., Eliam, A. and MacKenzie, L. eds. Penn Linguistics Colloquium.
  • Kim, C. (2006). Structural and Thematic Information in Sentence Production. In: Elfner, E. and Walkow, M. eds. North East Linguistics Society. GLSA, University of Massachusetts.
  • Kim, C. (2005). Order and Meaning: Numeral Classifiers and Specificity in Korean. In: Alderete, J. ed. West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. Cascadilla Proceedings Project.
Last updated