Maryellen C. MacDonald

Donald P. Hayes Professor of Psychology

Professor of Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ph.D. in Psychology, 1986, University of California, Los Angeles

E-Mail: mcmacdonald@wisc.edu
Phone: (608) 262-3986
Fax: (608) 262-4029
Research Interests
  • Language production and its impact on language variation, learning, and comprehension
  • Human language comprehension, particularly syntactic processing and ambiguity resolution.
  • Experiential bases of individual differences in language processing in adults and children.
  • Alternative conceptions of “verbal working memory”.
  • Cross-linguistic studies of the comprehension and production.
Overview of Current Research

My research investigates the links between language comprehension, language production, and memory representations. Although these fields are often studied independently, my work focuses on the intrinsic connections among them. For example, my research identifies processing difficulties involved in language production, how these computational demands shape what people unconsciously choose to say, and how these patterns of utterances influence how language is comprehended. I also study the role of language experience in what’s sometimes called verbal working memory.  While some researchers think of verbal working memory capacity as predicting language skill, I think this argument is backwards:  I argue that language comprehension and production processes are themselves the encoding and maintenance processes of verbal memory tasks.  I’m particularly interested in experiential sources of individual differences in these areas. Children’s early experiences with spoken language are highly variable; I’ve recently shown that children’s reading is a major source of such variation, which affects children’s own speech production.   Children are also exposed to dialects that differ in sociolinguistic status (e.g., “mainstream” American English vs. a minority dialect such as African American English), which has an impact on learning to read.

Some current topics (with representative articles) include:

  • Language production and its impact on language structure, acquisition, and comprehension.

MacDonald, M. C. (2013). How language production shapes language form and comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(226), 1-16.  |PDF|

Montag, J. L., & MacDonald, M. C. (2015). Text exposure predicts spoken production of complex sentences in 8-and 12-year-old children and adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(2), 447-468. |PDF|

  • Alternative conceptions of verbal working memory.   Rather than being a distinct memory system, “verbal working memory” phenomena arise from individual differences in linguistic knowledge and the mechanisms that support speech production.

MacDonald, M.C. & Christiansen, M.H. (2002). Reassessing working memory. Psychological Review,109(1), 35-54. |PDF|

MacDonald, M. C. (2016). Speak, act, remember: The language-production basis of serial order and maintenance in verbal memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(1), 47-53. |PDF|

Acheson, D. J., Postle, B. R., & MacDonald, M. C. (2010). The interaction of concreteness and phonological similarity in verbal working memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 17-36. |PDF|

  • Language variability and its impact on comprehending spoken and written language.

Edwards et al. (2014). Dialect Awareness and Lexical Comprehension of Mainstream American English in African American English–Speaking Children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research57(5), 1883-1895.  |PDF|

Brown, M.C., Sibley, D.E.,  Washington, J.A., Rogers, T.T., Edwards, J.R., MacDonald, M.C., & Seidenberg, M.S. (2015).  Impact of dialect use on a basic component of learning to read. Frontiers in Psychology, published March 24, 2015. PMCID: PMC4371648. |PDF|

Recent Publications

Hsiao, Y. & MacDonald, M.C. (2016). Production predicts comprehension: Animacy effects in Mandarin relative clause processing. Journal of Memory and Language. 89, 87-109. |PDF|

MacDonald, M.C. (2016). Memory limitations and chunking are variable and cannot explain language structure. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 39, E84.

MacDonald, M. C. (2016). Speak, act, remember: The language-production basis of serial order and maintenance in verbal memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(1), 47-53. |PDF|

MacDonald, M.C., Montag, J.L. & Gennari, S.P. (2016). Are there really syntactic complexity effects in sentence production? A reply to Scontras et al. (2015). Cognitive Science, 40, 513-518.

Montag, J.L. & MacDonald, M.C. (2015). Text exposure predicts spoken production of complex sentences in eight and twelve year old children and adults. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(2), 447-468. |PDF|

Willits, J., Amato, M.A., & MacDonald, M.C. (2015).  Language knowledge and event knowledge in language use. Cognitive Psychology, 78, 1-27. |PDF|

Brown, M., Sibley, D., Washington, J., Rogers, T.T., Edwards, J.R., MacDonald, M.C., & Seidenberg. M.S. (2015). Impact of dialect use on a basic component of learning to read. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 196. |PDF|

Hsiao, Y., Gao, Y., & MacDonald M.C. (2014). Agent-patient similarity affects sentence structure in language production: Evidence from subject omissions in Mandarin. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1015. |PDF|

Montag, J.L., & MacDonald, M.C. (2014). Visual salience modulates structure choice in relative clause production. Language and Speech, 57(2), 163-180. |PDF|

Edwards, J., Gross, M., Chen, J., MacDonald, M. C., Kaplan, D., Brown, M., & Seidenberg, M. S. (2014). Dialect Awareness and Lexical Comprehension of Mainstream American English in African American English–Speaking Children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research57(5), 1883-1895.
|PDF|

Mirkovic, J., & MacDonald, M. C. (2013). When singular and plural are both grammatical: Semantic and morphophonological effects in agreement. Journal of Memory and Language, 69(3), 277-298.
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MacDonald, M. C. (2013). Production is at the left edge of the PDC but still central: Response to commentaries. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(227), 1-3.
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MacDonald, M. C. (2013). How language production shapes language form and comprehension. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(226), 1-16.
|PDF|

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