Dr Paula Rubio-Fernandez

Researcher, University of Oslo;
Research Affiliate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Paula studies pragmatics, which is the area of linguistics that investigates meaning in context. More specifically, she works in experimental pragmatics, which employs methods from psycholinguistics to investigate theoretical pragmatics. Her research centers around four areas: lexical pragmatics (or how we modulate word meanings in context), figurative language interpretation (particularly metaphor), referential communication (how people produce and interpret referential expressions) and Theory of Mind (our understanding of mental states, which is necessary for successful communication). In her experimental studies, Paula has investigated the pragmatic abilities of both children and adults using a variety of behavioural methods (e.g., language production and reading times) as well as eye-tracking (continuous recording of eye movements during language processing). More recently, she has been collaborating on computational models of pragmatics.

Paula obtained her PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Cambridge in 2005. After she graduated, she was supported by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCL Linguistics, and by a Marie Curie International Fellowship at Princeton Psychology. On her return to UCL, she collaborated on a 3-year project funded by the Leverhulme Trust, before she moved to Norway with her family in 2014. Since then, Paula has carried out two large-scale research projects funded by the Research Council of Norway. Between 2016-2019, she was a Visiting Researcher at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.

In her more recent work, Paula has started exploring the connections between grammar and Theory of Mind. For example, how some of the most frequent words in English, such as definite and indefinite articles (e.g., ‘We bought the house’ vs. ‘We bought a house’) can signal shared knowledge between interlocutors and therefore trigger epistemic reasoning. Paula is interested in collaborating across the fields of historical linguistics, typology, pragmatics, social cognition and computational cognitive science.