Hi. I'm a Reader and Director of the Centre for Language Evolution at the University of Edinburgh.

My research focuses on understanding how languages are shaped by learning and use. I am interested in how typological universals (differences in the frequency of linguistic patterns across the world's languages) arise from properties of our cognitive system. To get at this, I teach people (children and adults) miniature artificial languages, and create computational models of their behaviour.

Selected Publications


Martin, A. and Culbertson, J. (in press). "Revisiting the suffixing preference: Native language affixation patterns influence perception of sequences." Psychological Science.

Culbertson, J., Schouwstra, M., and Kirby, S. (to appear). "From the world to word order: deriving biases in noun phrase order from statistical properties of the world.” Language. [preprint]

Carr, J., Smith, K., Culbertson, J., and Kirby, S. (to appear). "Simplicity and infor- mativeness in semantic category systems.” Cognition. [preprint]


Martin, Alexander, Klaus Abels, Theeraporn Ratitamkul, and Jennifer Culbertson. (2019). “Cross-Linguistic Evidence for Cognitive Universals in the Noun Phrase.” Linguistics Vanguard 5(1). [preprint]

Motamedi, Y., Schouwstra, M., Smith, K., Culbertson, J., and Kirby, S. (2019). Evolving artificial sign languages in the lab: from improvised gesture to systematic sign.” Cognition 192:1039642. [preprint]

Culbertson, Jennifer, Hanna Jarvinen, Frances Haggarty, and Kenny Smith. (2019). “Children’s Sensitivity to Phonological and Semantic Cues During Noun Class Learning: Evidence for a Phonological Bias.” Language 95(2):268–293. [open access pdf]

Culbertson, Jennifer. to appear. “Artificial Language Learning.” In Oxford Handbook of Experimental Syntax, edited by Jon Sprouse. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Culbertson, Jennifer, and Kathryn Schuler. 2019. “Artificial Language Learning in Children.” Annual Review of Linguistics 5: 353–73. doi:10.1146/annurev-linguistics-011718-012329. [link to free e-print]


Smith, Kenny, and Jennifer Culbertson. 2018. “Does Learning Favour Communicative Efficiency?” In The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference (Evolangxii), edited by C. Cuskley, M. Flaherty, H. Little, Luke McCrohon, A. Ravignani, and T. Verhoef. NCU Press. [pdf]


Braquet, Guillaume, and Jennifer Culbertson. 2017. “Harmony in a Non-Harmonic Language: Word Order Learning in French Children.” In Proceedings of the 39th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. [pdf]

Buerkin-Pontrelli, Angelica, Jennifer Culbertson, Geraldine Legendre, and Thierry Nazzi. 2017. “Competing Models of Liaison Acquisition: Evidence from Corpus and Experimental Data.” Language 93 (1): 189–219. doi:10.1353/lan.2017.0006. [preprint]

Kanwal, Jasmeen, Kenny Smith, Jennifer Culbertson, and Simon Kirby. 2017. “Zipf’s Law of Abbreviation and the Principle of Least Effort: Language Users Optimise a Miniature Lexicon for Efficient Communication.” Cognition 165: 45–52. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2017.05.001.

Culbertson, Jennifer. 2017. “New Approaches to the Greenbergian Word Order Dependencies.” In Dependencies in Language: On the Causal Ontology of Linguistic Systems, edited by Nick Enfield, 23–38. Studies in Diversity Linguistics. Language Science Press. [pdf]

Culbertson, Jennifer, and Elissa Newport 2017. “Innovation of Word Order Harmony Across Development.” Open Mind: Discoveries in Cognitive Science 1 (2): 91–100. doi:10.1162/OPMI_a_00010. (open access)


Culbertson, Jennifer, and Simon Kirby. 2016. “Simplicity and Specificity in Language: Domain General Biases Have Domain Specific Effects.” Frontiers in Psychology 6 (1964). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01964. (open access)

Culbertson, Jennifer, Marieke Schouwstra, and Simon Kirby. 2016. “Word Order Universals Reflect Cognitive Biases: Evidence from Silent Gesture.” In The Evolution of Language: Proceedings of the 11th International Conference (Evolang11), edited by S.G. Roberts, C. Cuskley, L. McCrohon, L. Barceló-Coblijn, O. Feher, and T. Verhoef, 391–93. [pdf]

Culbertson, Jennifer, Elena Koulaguina, Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, Géraldine Legendre, and Thierry Nazzi. 2016. “Developing Knowledge of Non-Adjacent Dependencies.” Developmental Psychology 52 (12): 2174–83. doi:10.1037/dev0000246.

Legendre, Géraldine, Paul Smolensky, and Jennifer Culbertson. 2016. “Blocking Effects at the Lexicon/Semantics Interface and Bi-Directional Optimization in French.” In Advances in OT Syntax and Semantics/Pragmatics: From Uni- to Bidirectional Optimization, edited by G. Legendre, M. Putnam, H. de Swart, and E. Zaroukian, 276–99. Oxford University Press.


Culbertson, Jennifer, and Elissa L. Newport. 2015. “Harmonic Biases in Child Learners: In Support of Language Universals.” Cognition 139: 71–82. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.02.007.

Enochson, Kelly and Jennifer Culbertson. 2015. “Collecting Psycholinguistic Response Time Data Using Amazon Mechanical Turk.” PLoS ONE 10 (3): e0116946. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0116946.


Culbertson, Jennifer, and David Adger. 2014. “Language Learners Privilege Structured Meaning over Surface Frequency.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (16): 5842–7. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320525111.

Legendre, Géraldine, Jennifer Culbertson, Erin Zaroukian, Lisa Hsin, Isabelle Barrière, and Thierry Nazzi. 2014. “Is Children’s Comprehension of Subject-Verb Agreement Universally Late? Comparative Evidence from French, Spanish, and English.” Lingua 144: 21–39. doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2013.05.004.


Culbertson, Jennifer, and Colin Wilson. 2013. “Artificial Grammar Learning of Shape-Based Noun Classification.” In Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, edited by Markus Knauff, Michael Pauen, Natalie Sebanz, and Ipke Wachsmuth, 2118–23. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. [pdf]

Culbertson, Jennifer, Paul Smolensky, and Colin Wilson. 2013. “Cognitive Biases, Linguistic Universals, and Constraint-Based Grammar Learning.” Topics in Cognitive Science 5 (3): 392–424. doi:10.1111/tops.12027.

Culbertson, Jennifer, and Géraldine Legendre. 2013. “Prefixal Agreement and Impersonal ‘Il’ in Spoken French: Experimental Evidence.” Journal of French Language Studies 24 (1): 83–105. doi:10.1017/S0959269513000380


Culbertson, Jennifer, and Paul Smolensky. 2012. “A Bayesian Model of Biases in Artificial Language Learning: The Case of a Word-Order Universal.” Cognitive Science 36 (8): 1468–98. doi:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2012.01264.x.

Culbertson, Jennifer, Paul Smolensky, and Géraldine Legendre. 2012. “Learning Biases Predict a Word Order Universal.” Cognition 122: 306–29. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2011.10.017.

Culbertson, Jennifer. 2012. “Typological Universals as Reflections of Biased Learning: Evidence from Artificial Language Learning.” Language and Linguistics Compass 6 (5): 310–29. doi:10.1002/lnc3.338.


Gross, Steven, and Jennifer Culbertson. 2011. “Revisited Linguistic Intuitions.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 62: 639–56. doi:10.1093/bjps/axr009.


Culbertson, Jennifer. 2010. “Convergent Evidence for Categorial Change in French: From Subject Clitic to Agreement Marker.” Language 86 (1): 85–132. doi:10.1353/lan.0.0183.


Culbertson, Jennifer, and Steven Gross. 2009. “Are Linguists Better Subjects?” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60: 721–36. doi:10.1093/bjps/axp032.


Demuth, Katherine, Jennifer Culbertson, and Jennifer Alter. 2006. “Word-Minimality, Epenthesis and Coda Licensing in the Early Acquisition of English.” Language and Speech 49 (2): 137–74. doi:10.1177/00238309060490020201.

Get In Touch

If you have questions, are interested in working with me, want me to send you a paper, etc., get in touch!