My central research interest concerns elucidating the relationship between language and cognitive development - How does the emergence of various linguistic expressions in a child's language depend on the child's growing conceptual capacity? Conversely, in what ways does language acquisition itself make certain concepts more saliently available for problem solving? Furthermore, how might language play a role in the creation of new representational structures?


Harvard University

Research Associate (2007-present)

Postdoctoral Fellow (2002-2006)

  • NIH NRSA Post-doctoral fellowship (2003-2006): The effect of language on object-substance construal
  • Advisor: Susan Carey

University of Pennsylvania

Ph.D. degree in Psychology (2002)

  • Thesis: Trekking through Space with Whorf
  • Advisor: Lila Gleitman

Stanford University

Visiting student at the Linguistics Department (1995-1996)

  • Advisor: Eve Clark

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

S.B. degree in Computer Science (1993)

  • Thesis: Feature Modifications and Lexical Access
  • Advisor: Kenneth Stevens

Selected Papers

Spatial Cognition; Frames of Reference

Li, P., Shusterman, A., & McNaughton, A. (under review). "Put your left arm in, and shake it all about": The role of the body in children's acquisition of spatial terms. (Download PDF)
Shusterman, A. & Li, P. (under review). Frames of reference in spatial language acquisition. (Download PDF)
Abarbanell, L., Montana, R., & Li, P. (2011). Revisiting plasticity in human spatial cognition: cross-linguistic comparisons. Spatial Information Theory, Lecture Notes in Computer Science Series, 6899, 245-263.(Download PDF)
Li, P., Abarbanell, L., Papafragou, A., & Gleitman, L. (2011). Spatial reasoning in Tenejapan Mayans. Cognition, 120, 33-5. (Download PDF)
Abarbanell, L. & Li, P. (2009). Spatial frames of reference and perspective taking in Tseltal Maya. In Chandlee, J. et al. (eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Boston University Conference on Language Development, Vol (1), pp. 49-60. (Download PDF)
Li, P., & Gleitman, P. (2002). Turning the tables: Language and spatial reasoning.  Cognition, 83, 265-294. (Download PDF)

Quantification and Individuation; Mass-Count vs. Classifier Languages

LeCorre, M., Li, P., Huang, B., Gia, J, & Carey, S. (under revision). Language and number: A comparison of young Mandarin and English Learners. (Download PDF)
Li, P., Chen, F., Barner, D., & Carey, S. (under revision). Concepts of object and substance kinds: A comparison of speakers of English and of Tsotsil Mayans. (Download PDF)
Li, P. (to appear). Behavioral studies: Processing of classifiers and count-mass distinction. In Sybesma, R., Behr, W., Gu, Y., Handel, Z., Huang, J., Myers, J. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Chinese Language and Linguistics, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. (Download PDF)
Cheung, P., & Li, P. (to appear). Acquisition of classifiers and count-mass distinction. In Sybesma, R., Behr, W., Gu, Y., Handel, Z., Huang, J., Myers, J. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Chinese Language and Linguistics, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. (Download PDF)
Srinivasan, M., Chestnut, E., Li, P., & Barner, D. (2013). Sortal concepts of pragmatic inference in children's early quantification of objects. Cognitive Psychology, 66, 302-326. (Download PDF)
Wang, J., Li, P., & Carey, S. (2013). Exploring language and thought relation in learning how stuff counts. In S. Baiz, N. Goldman, & R. Hawkes (Eds.), Proceedings of the 37the Annual Boston University Conference on Language and Development, 456-468, Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Press. (Download PDF)
Cheung, P., Li, P., & Barner, D. (2012). What counts in Mandarin Chinese: A study of individuation and quantification. In N. Miyake, D. Peebles, & R. P. Cooper (Eds.), Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, 210-215. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. (Download PDF)
Li, P., Hsiao, Y., & Huang, B. (2010). Learning classifiers count: Mandarin-speaking children's acquisition of sortal and mensural classifiers. Journal of East Asian Linguistics. 19(3), 207-230. (Download PDF)
Barner, D., Li, P., & Snedeker, J. (2010). Words as windows to thought. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 19(3), 195-200. (Download PDF)
Cheung, P., Barner, D., & Li, P. (2010). Syntactic cues to individuation in Mandarin Chinese. Journal of Cognitive Science, 10, 135-147. (Download PDF)
Li, P., Ogura, T., Barner, D., Yang., S.-Y., & Carey, S. (2009). Does the conceptual distinction between singular and plural sets depend on language? Developmental Psychology, 45(6), 1644-1653. (Download PDF)
Barner, D., Inagaki, S., & Li, P. (2009). Language, thought, and real nouns. Cognition, 111, 329-344. (Download PDF)
Li, P., Dunham, Y., & Carey, S. (2009). Of substance: The nature of language effects on entity construal.  Cognitive Psychology, 58(4), 487-524. (Download PDF)
Li, P., Barner, D., & Huang, B. (2008).  Classifiers as count syntax: Individuation and measurement in the acquisition of Mandarin Chinese. Language, Learning and Development, 4(4), 1-42. (Download PDF)

Source Monitoring and Evidentials

Papafragou, A., Li, P., Choi, Y., & Han, C.-H. (2007). Evidentiality in language and cognition.  Cognition, 103, 253-299 (Download PDF)

Word Learning

Snedeker, J., Li, P., & Yuan, S. (2003).Cross-Cultural Differences in the Input to Early Word Learning. Proceedings of the Twenty-fifth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Mahwah, NJ, USA: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.  (Download PDF)
Snedeker, J., & Li, P. (2000).Can the situations in which words occur account for cross-linguistic variation in vocabulary composition? In J Tai. & Y. Chang (Eds.), Proceedings of the Seventh International Symposium on Chinese Languages and Linguistics.  (Download PDF)


Teaching Experience

Harvard University

  • Lab Instructor for Psych 1655r - Conceptual Development Research Laboratory (2013) (Download Syllabus)
  • Lecturer for Psych 1302; Ling 130 - Psychology of Language (2006, 2007)
  • Lecturer for Psych 1306; Psych 980ii - Language and Thought (2006, 2007, 2008)
  • Guest Lecturer for Psych 1606 - Language Acquisition (Snedeker, 2002, 2003, 2005)

Boston University

  • Lecturer for SED LS 565 - Introduction to Language and Linguistics (2012, 2013, 2014) (Download Syllabus)
  • Lecturer for SED LS 750 - Language and Cognitive Development Graduate Seminar (2007, 2009, 2012) (Download Syllabus)

Northeastern University

  • Lecturer for Psych 4658 – Psycholinguistics Seminar (2010)

Wellesley College

  • Co-Lecturer for Psych 345 – Cognitive Development Seminar (2010)

University of Pennsylvania, Computer Science and Engineering Department

  • Instructor for CSE 130 - Lab course accompanying CSE 120
  • TA for CSE 120 - Programming Languages and Techniques I (Buneman & Pierce, 1998)
  • TA for CSE 110 - Introduction to Programming (Tran, 1997)

University of Pennsylvania, Psychology Department

  • Head TA for Psych 1 - Introduction to Psychology (DeRubeis, Flanagan-Cato, & Kelly, 1997)
  • TA for Psych 131 - Animal Behavior (Seyfarth & Cheney, 1996)
  • TA for Psych 151 - Cognitive Psychology (Trueswell, 1994, 1999)
  • Psych 335 - Research Experience in Language (Gleitman, 1998; supervised group projects)
  • Designed and ran labs for Language Acquisition sessions of the Summer Workshops in Cognitive Science and Cognitive Neuroscience (1999, 2000, 2001)

Student Academic and Research Advising Experience

Harvard University

  • Freshman Academic Advisor (2007-2008)
  • Undergraduate Psychology Concentration Advisor (2005-2006)
  • Doctoral Dissertation Committee.
    • “Language influences on Tseltal Speakers’ Spatial Reasoning Ability” (L. Abarbanell, 2007-2010).
  • Undergraduate Thesis Advisor.
    • “Nominal Structure in Tseltal” (Foushee, 2013, Linguistics Dept, Magna Cum Laude Plus)
    • “Spatial reasoning in English and Tseltal speaking children” (R. Montana, 2008, Magna Cum Laude)
    • “Object and substance construal by Tsotsil speaking Mayans” (F. Chen, 2007, Summa Cum Laude; Hoopes Prize and Department thesis award)
  • Independent Research (Psych 910r, Psych 2160, Psych 1655r) - Some topics included:
    • “Count-mass syntax and entity representation” (Y. Dunham, 2002)
    • “Acquisition of spatial frames of reference terms” (L. Abarbanell, 2003; A. McNaughton, 2008-2009)
    • “Crosslinguistic investigation of functionality in naming solids and non-solids” (M. Prober, 2004; K. Tanaka, 2005)
    • “Teaching units of quantification” (S. Hubert, 2010, C. Shen, 2012)
    • “Partitive measure acquisition” (I. Lee, 2011)
    • “Quantification of substances” (X. Chen, 2012; Zuona, 2013)
    • “Sortal representation” (S. Guerrero, 2012)
  • Field Experience Program (FEP) Sponsor
    • “Singular/Plural representation in Mandarin toddlers” (R. Williams, 2005)
    • “Representing the left and right of fronted objects in memory” (A. Lock, 2005; H. Gary, 2007)
    • “Functionality in naming” (K. James, 2005)
  • Laboratory for Developmental Studies Summer Internship Mentor. Topics included:
    • “Developments in understanding units of quantification” (Y.-L. Hsiao, 2008, Harvard; D. Friel, 2009, Swarthmore; Y.-J. Li, 2010, Mt. Holyoke; J. Y.-Y. Wang, 2011, Zhejiang U; C. Shen, Harvard, 2012)
    • “Acquisition of spatial frames of reference terms” (A. Price, 2005, Wellesley; L. Bogsted, 2006, MIT; R. Foushee, 2011).

Wesleyan University

  • Reader for Undergraduate Thesis (A. Herrara, 2010)

Swarthmore College

  • External Examiner for Honors Program (2004). Administered 3 exams: Theory of Mind, Language and Thought, Thesis Oral (S. Crane).

University of Pennsylvania

  • Psych Honors Thesis
    • "Universal ontology and language-specific influence on word learning" (A. Kubota, 1999)
    • "Linguistic relativity effects on category learning: A case study with spatial prepositions" (R. Lowenstein, 1998)
  • General Honors Thesis (GH099)
    • "Contextual influence on spatial frames of reference" (K. Hoffman, 1998)
  • Independent Research


Linda Abarbanell

Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

David Barner

Assistant Professor of Psychology, UCSD

Susan Carey

Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

Pierina Cheung

Graduate Student in Psychology, University of Waterloo

Lila Gleitman

Professor Emerita of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

Mathieu LeCorre

Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Waterloo

Anna Papafragou

Assistant Professor of PSychology, University of Delaware

Anna Shusterman

Assistant Professor of Psychology, Wesleyan University