Dr. Marisa Casillas
Photo credit: Erielle Bakkum
Broadly speaking, I am interested in exploring how cognitive and social processes shape the ways in which we learn, perceive, and produce language. My primary research examines the relationship between communicative skills and linguistic processing in children and adults. I use a combination of experimental- and observation-based methods to comparatively investigate these processes in both urban, Western contexts and rural, Indigenous contexts.
Much of my work focuses in particular on how communicative and linguistic skills co-develop during the first few years of life with the hope of better understanding how our capacity to produce, understand, and transmit language across generations is shaped by interactive needs.
My research into children’s everyday language environments in Western urban contexts and in two Indigenous rural contexts demonstrates that, across these communities, utterances directly and exclusively addressed to young children are relatively rare. Following on this discovery, we are now investigating differences in features of child-centered interactions in these communities while also exploring other ways in which children may capitalize on linguistic information in their environment.
This work has resulted in a secondary line of research on the methods and tools critical for collecting and analyzing long-format at-home recordings of children’s language environments; for more on that, see the ACLEW project.
My research into children’s development of turn-taking skills shows that even very young children predictively track the structure of human converstion, using linguistic cues to do so from age two onward. Following on this work, we are now investigating precisely how and when children begin attending to the need for response in conversation, focusing on the linguistic and non-linguistic cues that allow them to make online predictions.
I also work on a number of smaller projects relating to linguistic and cultural phenomena of special relevance to the two Indigenous communities I work with, a Tseltal Mayan community in Chiapas, Mexico and the rural Rossel Island community in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea.
Courses at UChicago (last taught)
Blooming Buzzing Confusion (Winter 2023)
Methods in Child Development Research (Winter 2023)
Human Language and Interaction (Spring 2022, next: Spring 2023)
Mind III (Spring 2022, next: Spring 2023)
The Development of Communicative Competence (Winter 2022)
From Data to Manuscript in R (Winter 2022)
Professional organizations (co-)led
Office: Rosenwald 318A