Spencer Caplan

I'm a Ph.D candidate (entered 2015) in the Linguistics Department at the University of Pennsylvania where I'm advised by Charles Yang and Mitch Marcus. I am also a member of the Language Development and Language Processing Lab in the Department of Psychology with John Trueswell.

Prior to Penn, I completed Undergraduate degrees in Linguistics and Computer Science at Brown University where I worked with Eugene Charniak in the Brown Laboratory for Linguistic Information Processing


My research is at the intersection of linguistics, computation, and cognition.

  • I work on computational and algorithmic models of language acquisition and language proccessing.
  • I apply quantitative and statistical methodology to answer questions in theoretical linguistics.
  • I also use experimental techniques such as eye-tracking to study questions in psycholinguistics.

Code for many projects is available on my Github. If there's something you can't find or can't get to work as expected, feel free to contact me.

Journal Articles

  • [in prep]   S. Caplan. How to Win without Trying: Incremental Generation Drives Efficient Language Production.
  • [submitted]   S. Caplan, J. Kodner, & C. Yang. Miller's Monkey Updated: Communicative Efficiency and the Statistics of Words in Natural Language. (manuscript available)
  • [submitted]   S. Caplan. Word Learning as Category Formation. (email for access)
  • [in press]   S. Caplan & K. Djärv. What usage can tell us about grammar: embedded Verb Second in Scandanavian. (manuscript available)

Selected Presentations and Proceedings


  • [16]   S. Caplan, A. Hafri, & J. Trueswell. Speech Processing does not Involve Acoustic Maintenance. CogSci 2019, Montreal, Canada
  • [15]   S. Caplan. Syntactic “Optionality” Reflects Performance rather than Competence. GLOW 2019, Oslo, Norway
  • [14]   S. Caplan. Incremental Generation Drives "Efficient" Language Production.
  • [a] CUNY 2019 , Boulder, CO
    [b] AMLaP 2018, Berlin, Germany
    [c] Mid-Atlantic Student Colloquium on Speech, Language and Learning (MASC-SLL) 2018, Baltimore, MD
  • [13]   D. Beser & S. Caplan. Local Processes of Homophone Acquisition. SCiL 2019, New York, NY
  • 2018

  • [12]   S. Caplan. Word Learning as Category Formation.
  • [a] CogSci 2018, Madison, WI
    [b] SCiL 2018, Salt Lake City, UT
  • [11]   S. Caplan & J. Kodner. The Acquisition of Vowel Harmony from Simple Local Statistics. CogSci 2018, Madison, WI
  • [10]   S. Caplan. Naive Generalization in Word Learning. Child Language Symposium (CLS) 2018, Reading, UK
  • 2017

  • [9]   S. Caplan & K. Djärv. Embedded-Verb Second is Anti-Licenced by Discourse Familiarity.
  • [a] Meaning in Flux 2017, Yale University, New Haven, CT
    [b] Texas Linguistic Society 17, Austin, TX
    [c] Mid-Atlantic Colloquium of Studies in Meaning 2017 , Georgetown University, Washington D.C.
    [d] SelectionFest 2017 , Berlin, Germany
  • [8]   S. Caplan. Mandarin “Descriptive Complements” are Adjuncts. Texas Linguistic Society 17, Austin, TX
  • [7]   S. Caplan & J. Kodner. Vowel Harmony as a Distributional Learning Problem. CogSci 2017, London, UK
  • [6]   S. Caplan & K. Djärv. Quantitative analysis of Formal and Stylistic variation in Embedded V2. FWAV 4, York, UK
  • [5]   J. Kodner, S. Caplan, H. Xu, M. Marcus, & C. Yang. Case Studies in the Automatic Characterization of Grammars from Small Wordlists. ComputEL-2, Honolulu, HI
  • [4]   S. Caplan. Morphological Typology Induction. DARPA LORELEI
  • 2016

  • [3]   {S. Caplan & J. Kodner}. A Computational Model of Vowel Harmony Acquisition. NECPhon10, Amherst, MA
  • [2]   S. Caplan & J. Kodner. Induction of a Morphological Feature Typology, Automatic Vowel Harmony Characterization, Uyghur A-Raising. DARPA LORELEI
  • 2015

  • [1]   S. Caplan, N. Fox, D. McClosky, & E. Charniak. Lexical Substitution for Cross-Domain Parser Adaptation. Undergraduate Thesis


I've had the opportunity to work and collaborate with many smart and interesting people including: Charles Yang, Tony Kroch, Mitch Marcus, Kajsa Djärv, Jordan Kodner, John Trueswell, Alon Hafri, Eugene Charniak, Hongzhi Xu, Neal Fox,

Funding, Fellowships, and Scholarships


Teaching Assistantships


Ballroom Dance

Outside of academia, I am a competitive Ballroom Dancer.

Ballroom dance arose as the standardization of various folk partner dances around the start of the 20th century. Over the subsequent hundred plus years, it has evolved into a formal canon which is very technically-involved and increasingly athletic while retaining the classic (Ballroom) aesthetic.

I have ranked in the top 45 Amateur Ballroom dancers in the US . My primary coaches are Emanuele Pappacena and Francesca Lazzari. Additionally, I've been fortunate enough to train with many of the best teachers in the world.

I also enjoy teaching Ballroom dance, both working with couples individually as well as teaching group classes. I am the Standard Ballroom instructor at the University of Pennsylvania.


My office is 514, Levine Hall.

You can email me at spcaplan at sas dot upenn dot edu.

Miscellaneous Treasures

Avril 50 is one of the finest spots in Philadelphia.

It only took 154 5:00 AM trips and counting to get my photo on the wall at the best restaurant in Providence.

If you find yourself in downtown Austin, you should probably spend all your time and money at Péché.

Everyone should watch more Fellini.