New Faculty
Laura Kertz Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Laura Kertz
Assistant Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences

By Deborah Baum  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

In the field of linguistics, Laura Kertz is interested in what people don’t say. She examines pronouns and other forms of anaphora — what a speaker leaves underspecified or simply leaves out of a conversation, leading the hearer to infer things. “You don’t notice that people do it until you stop and look really closely at examples and ask, ‘How did you figure that out?’” she said.

Kertz’s research focuses on interactions between syntax (how what we say gets assembled bit by bit) and pragmatics (how what we say relates to a speech context). Her thesis work addressed the interpretation of verb phrase ellipsis, the linguistic term for when people omit rather than repeat a verb phrase that’s already been introduced. In particular, she looked at how listeners recognize parallelism in syntax and in discourse, and how interactions between these two levels of structure help people recover the missing part of the utterance. She has recently completed a manuscript on the topic.

Additionally, Kertz has worked on the Moro Language Project in San Diego, funded by the National Science Foundation. An endangered Kordofanian language spoken in the Nuba Mountains region of Sudan, Moro is a member of one of the most poorly described language groups in Africa. Kertz has spent time with a group of Moro speakers and fellow researchers in San Diego to help document the language by developing a grammar and dictionary.

Kertz recently completed her Ph.D. at the University of California–San Diego. She received a B.A. from the University of Texas–Austin, where she was Phi Beta Kappa, and an M.A. in liberal studies from City University of New York. Formerly a substitute teacher, a software company marketing manager, and a project manager at an Internet startup, Kertz says she’s always been interested in technology and “how stuff works.” That’s why she was drawn to experimental linguistics and cognitive science.

“Something that had been dissatisfying for me working in theoretical linguistics was developing a theory, but missing the satisfaction of really proving it,” she said. “I really like data. Some branches of linguistics are like philosophy — you support your proposal with logical argument or even a proof. I value that, but for me, nothing beats a spreadsheet full of data.”