Eric Biggs

Eric Biggs

Department of English Language and Linguistics
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD title: Handling the pragmatics of speech acts with construction grammar and cognitive semantics
SupervisorsDr Florent Perek and Dr Amanda Patten
PhD English Language and Applied Linguistics


  • MA Cognitive Linguistics (Case Western Reserve University)
  • BA Applied Linguistics (Portland State University)


My background includes working with linguistic tools such as FrameNET, CQPWeb, Python NLTK, and the natural language processing library spaCy (along with the R wrapper spaCyr) to harvest, clean, and annotate language data. I have then, in turn, used these tools to build functional models of language. Outside of my PhD research, I worked with a team of linguists where we developed the digital agent module for the Facebook Portal. I currently work with a team of psychology and linguistic researchers in the aeronautics and aviation sector where my focus is building a Construction Grammar driven lexicon for cognitive models using the ACT-R modeling framework. Together we build and test synthetic speech agents with the aim of improving human-computer interactions. These agents are capable of handling conversational dialogues with humans in domain specific environments.


The meaning of speech acts relies not only on the utterances given to produce them, but also the environment where they are produced. Speakers and hearers engage with both utterances and the environment where they are uttered by means of the cognitive system of targeting. This system is used to guide a hearer to joint attention by means of triggers that cue the target. Core triggers are used to initiate the targeting process. These core triggers are lexicalized. Joint attention is often the result of conceptually integrating mental spaces. This type of joint attention is referred to as blended joint attention. The targeting system is not only capable of cueing a hearer to a target within the real world, but is also able to cue a hearer to a conceptualized blend of joint attention. The expression 'what are you waiting for' operates in two distinct ways: it can be used to seek information from a hearer, and to issue a hortatory imperative. The form of this expression consists of a Wh-word along with the second person personal pronoun and present progressive. The trailing preposition 'for' completes this form. However, the meaning of this form is two-fold and dependent on cueing the hearer to joint attention. The pairing of both form and meaning creates a construction, which is the domain of Construction Grammar. My research is aimed at explicating how speech acts are handled from a Construction Grammar stance relying on the cognitive systems of targeting and blending to delineate how different meanings are achieved from the same expression. My work takes the construction 'what are you waiting for' as an example case where I demonstrate how the hortatory imperatival meaning is produced by achieving blended joint attention. This research is based on corpus linguistic analysis and is aimed at offering insight, from a Construction Grammar viewpoint, to the fairly new sub-discipline of corpus pragmatics in regard to speech acts.

Other activities

I am a red hen researcher with the Red Hen Lab.