I'm a fourth year graduate student in the Linguistics department at the University of Maryland, College Park where I'm also part of the Language Science Center. Broadly, I'm interested in meaning, its acquisition, and the relationship between linguistic and conceptual structure. I'm advised by Jeff Lidz and Paul Pietroski.


First- & Second-order Quantifiers: The meaning of sentences like every circle is blue can be described in terms of individuals and their properties (e.g., for each thing that’s a circle, it’s blue) or in terms of relations between groups (e.g., the blue things include the circles). But does this formal distinction between first- and second-order logic correspond to a genuine psychological distinction in the mind of speakers? One way Jeff Lidz, Paul Pietroski, Justin Halberda, and I have been trying to find out is by asking how well people remember fundamentally group properties (e.g., approximate cardinality, center of mass, average size) and fundamentally individual properties (e.g., a specific circle's size or color) after evaluating quantificational statements. We find that adults and kids remember group properties following sentences with every or all and remember individual properties following sentences with each.

Precursors of Quantification: With Nicolò Cesana-Arlotti, we're starting to look for evidence of quantificational concepts in pre-linguistic infants. So far, we’ve found that even 10 month-olds distinguish distributive and collective exhaustive actions (e.g., three wolves chasing a single ball together vs. three wolves each individually chasing their own ball). We’ve also started looking for evidence that infants can learn monotonic and antitonic functions.

Majority Quantifiers: Relatedly, we've been looking at how the meanings of more and most bias people to search for and remember different information. Specifically, when evaluating statements like more of the dots are blue, adults and kids represent the focused (blue) and non-focused (non-blue) sets and perform a direct comparison. When evaluating statements like most of the dots are blue, on the other hand, people represent the focused set (blue dots) and the superset (dots) and perform a proportional comparison. In displays with only two colors, this is a sub-optimal strategy since it introduces more noise into the number estimates than the simple direct comparison would. But participants use it anyway, as it more closely reflects the meaning of most. With Yu'an Yang and Elaine Lau, we've started to extend these predictions to Cantonese majority quantifiers as well.

Event Concepts & Syntactic Bootstrapping: I'm also working with Laurel Perkins, Mina Hirzel, Alexander Williams, and Jeff Lidz to understand how learners relate syntactic arguments and event participants in verb learning. Do they expect the number of participants perceived in an event to match one-to-one the number of arguments in the clause describing that event? Or do they exploit knowledge of more sophisticated relationships and expect that particular argument positions will name certain participant roles? To this end, we’ve identified events -- like a girl taking a truck from a boy -- that infants plausibly view under a 3-participant concept but that adults often describe with transitive clauses like "The girl took the truck". We’re using these videos to test how young learners' hypotheses about novel verb meanings change depending on what syntactic frame they’re presented in.

Pre-UMD: Before coming to Maryland I studied Cognitive Science at Johns Hopkins. I managed Justin Halberda's Vision lab and worked with him on a number of projects, many of which were related to the Approximate Number System. I was also fortunate enough to work with Akira Omaki and Emily Atkinson on a project investigating the relationship between working memory and parsing.



T. Knowlton, P. Pietroski, J. Halberda, and J. Lidz (under review) The mental representation of universal quantifiers [lingbuzz]


[Upcoming] T. Knowlton, P. Pietroski, A. Williams, J. Halberda, and J. Lidz (2020) Conservative meanings with only one set: evidence from verification. 33rd CUNY Conference, UMass. 

T. Knowlton (2019) The psychological treatment of (universal) quantification. Integrated Language Sciences and Technology Seminar, UPenn. 

T. Knowlton, P. Pietroski, J. Halberda, and J. Lidz (2019) The mental representation of universal quantifiers: evidence from verification. 32nd CUNY Conference, CU Boulder. 

T. Knowlton, J. Halberda, P. Pietroski, and J. Lidz (2018) Acquiring the universal quantifiers: every part together or each part on its own? BUCLD 43, Boston, MA. 

T. Knowlton (2018) Are natural language quantifiers first- or second-order? McDonnell Network Focused Workshop on “The Development of Set and Quantifier Representations”, Johns Hopkins. 


N. Cesana-Arlotti, T. Knowlton, J. Lidz, P. Pietroski, and J. Halberda (2019) Concepts of universal quantification ("each" and "all") may support infant and adult understanding of collective and distributive actions. CDS 11th Biennial Meeting, Louisville, KY. 

T. Knowlton, J. Halberda, P. Pietroski, and J. Lidz (2019) A novel memory task reveals early understanding of quantifier meanings. SRCD Biennial Meeting, Baltimore, MD. 

T. Knowlton, P. Pietroski, J. Halberda, and J. Lidz (2019) Representational format and universal quantifiers. LSA Annual Meeting, New York, NY. 

L. Perkins, T. Knowlton, A. Williams, and J. Lidz (2018) Matching number vs. linking roles: Using 3-participant scene percepts to understand infants’ bootstrapping. BUCLD 43, Boston, MA. 

T. Knowlton, L. Perkins, A. Williams, and J. Lidz (2018) Getting a grip on infants’ event representations: participant number in TAKE and PICK-UP. XXI ICIS Biennial Meeting, Philadelphia, PA. 

T. Knowlton, A. Wong, J. Halberda, P. Pietroski, and J. Lidz (2018) Different determiners, different algorithms: Two majority quantifiers in Cantonese bias distinct verification strategies. 31st CUNY Conference, UC Davis. 

T. Knowlton, J. Halberda, P. Pietroski, and J. Lidz (2017) Sentences, centers, and sets: Set selection and the meanings of more and most. CDS 10th Biennial Meeting, Portland, OR. 

T. Knowlton, J. Halberda, P. Pietroski, and J. Lidz (2017) Distinguishing first- from second-order specifications of each, every, and all. The Seventh MACSIM, Georgetown. 

T. Knowlton, J. Halberda, P. Pietroski, and J. Lidz (2017) Set selection and storage reflect differences in quantifier meanings. McDonnell Network Plenary Workshop on “The Ontogenetic Origins of Combinatorial Thought”, UCSD. 

L. Perkins, T. Knowlton, M. Hirzel, R. Dudley, A. Williams, and J. Lidz (2017) Linguistic and conceptual structure in verb learning. McDonnell Network Plenary Workshop on “The Ontogenetic Origins of Combinatorial Thought”, UCSD. 

Teaching & Mentoring

Courses instructed:

Spring 2020: Language and Thought (LING449T)
Does language shape cognition? Do the details of our native language(s) determine how we perceive the world? Can learning language give us access to new concepts? In this course, we’ll explore these questions through case studies that include: color categorization, spatial frames of reference, navigation, theory of mind, time, and number. Along the way, we’ll discuss the nature of concepts as well as ways that linguists can leverage the relationship between language and thought to study natural language meaning.

Courses TAed:

Fall 2019: Grammar and Meaning (LING410; Instructor: Valentine Hacquard)
Spring 2019: Child Language Acquisition (LING444; Instructor: Jeffrey Lidz)
Fall 2018: Language and Mind (LING240; Instructor: Tonia Bleam)
Spring 2018: Introductory Linguistics (LING200; Instructor: Tonia Bleam)


At UMD, I've served as the mentor for undergraduate research assistants Mac Lauchman, Mariam Aiyad, Divya Lahori, and Taylor Hudson and as the mentor for high school intern Simon Chervenak, who won the Washington Academy of Science's award for Best Paper in Behavioral Sciences.

Contact Info

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    1413H Marie Mount Hall
    7814 Regents Drive
    College Park, MD 20742
Check out my awesome cohort at UMD:
Sigwan Thivierge, Mina Hirzel, Anouk Dieuleveut, Aaron Doliana, and Rodrigo Ranero.