WORDS Project


The WORDS project ran from October 2011 until September 2016 and was generously funded by the European Research Council under an Advanced Investigator Award.

The full title of the project was "WORDS: Asymmetry, change and processing in phonological mental representation."





This project combined approaches from historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics, phonology and computational modelling to examine the abstract representation of words.

In the most general terms, the novel objective of the project was to investigate the abstract nature of the mental phonological representations of words which is claimed to govern the (i) time-course of on-line word-recognition and (ii) the temporal dimension of historical development.

The project pursued four key research questions, where the answers to each question required a dialogue between several disciplines:

  1. WHAT is the nature and phonological structure of mental representations of WORDS and HOW are they constrained?
  2. HOW are these representations processed and accessed in the course of everyday communication?
  3. HOW and WHY do representations change, while sometimes tenaciously remaining constant over time?
  4. CAN the hypotheses and predictions about mental representations be computationally modelled?


The Principal Investigator complemented her strong linguistics research profile with her forte in psycholinguistics and neuro-linguistics.

The hypothesis tested is that the abstract representation of words in the adult brain, which handles asymmetric phonological variation in speech and is measurable by reaction time and brain-imaging techniques, is also reflected in the development of words as indicated by historical data from manuscripts.