Dr Marcus Perlman BA, MA, MS, PhD

Dr Marcus Perlman

Department of English Language and Linguistics
Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics
Acting Director of PGR for ELAL

Contact details

Frankland Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

I am a lecturer in English Language and Linguistics. My research examines iconicity in speech and gesture, with special interest in the evolution of human communication. I also study the gesturing and vocal behaviour of great apes.


  • PhD in Cognitive Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • MS in Cognitive Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • MA in Applied Linguistics, Georgia State University
  • BA in Linguistics, Rice University


I joined the Department of English Language and Linguistics in September of 2017. Before coming to Birmingham, I earned my PhD in Cognitive Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with Raymond Gibbs. Following this, I was a postdoc at the Gorilla Foundation, where I studied under the gorilla Koko. I then did postdocs in Cognitive and Information Sciences at the University of California, Merced, and in Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Most recently, I was a postdoc in the Language and Cognition department at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.


This academic year I will be teaching modules in:

  • Investigating Language (BA)
  • Language, Senses, and Sound Symbolism (BA, with Bodo Winter)
  • Psycholinguistics (MA)

Postgraduate supervision

I am looking to supervise postgraduate research on topics at the intersections of psycholinguistics, multimodality, metaphor, and especially iconicity. Some specific points of interest include:

Experimental studies of iconicity and metaphor in language production and understanding
Multimodal approaches to iconicity and metaphor in natural conversation, including the use of multimodal corpora
Experimental studies of iconicity and metaphor in the emergence and evolution of communication systems

Find out more - our PhD English Language and Applied Linguistics  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


My research is driven by two big questions. What is language? and Where did it come from? My main angle into these questions is through iconicity – resemblance between the form of a signal and its meaning. My work examines iconicity across a range of phenomena, from prosody in the production of spoken sentences, to word learning by children, to the gesturing of gorillas. I am especially interested in the role of iconicity in the evolution of human communication and the ongoing historical development of languages.

Other activities

Please visit http://mperlman.org to see my CV and a complete list of publications. You might also take a look at some of the following media attention to my work:


Journal articles

  • Perlman, M. (2017). Debunking two myths against vocal origins of language: Language is iconic and multimodal to the core. Interaction Studies.
  • Winter, B., Perlman, M., Perry, L., & Lupyan, G. (2017). Which words are most iconic? Iconicity in English sensory words. Interaction Studies.
  • Perlman, M. & Salmi, R. (2017). Gorillas may use their laryngeal air sacs for whinny-type vocalizations and male display. Journal of Language Evolution.
  • Perry, L. K., Perlman, M., Winter, B., Massaro, D. W., & Lupyan, G. (2017). Iconicity in the speech of children and adults. Developmental Science. 
  • Massaro, D.W. & Perlman, M.(2017).Quantifying iconicity’s role during language acquisition: Implications for vocabulary learning. Frontiers in Communication, 2:4. 
  • Tanner, J.E. & Perlman, M.(2016). Moving beyond meaning: Gorillas combine gestures into sequences for creative display. Language & Communication. Advance online publication. .
  • Perry, L.K., Perlman, M.*,& Lupyan, G. (2015). Iconicity in English and Spanish, and its relation to lexical category and age of acquisition. PLoS ONE, 10, e0137147. [*First authorship shared]
  • Perlman, M., Dale, R.D., & Lupyan, G. (2015). Iconicity can ground the creation of vocal symbols. Royal Society Open Science, 2: 150152.
  • Perlman, M. & Clark, N. (2015). Learned vocal and breathing behavior in an enculturated gorilla. Animal Cognition, 18, 1165-1179.
  • Fusaroli, R., Perlman, M., Mislove, A., Paxton, A., Matlock, T., & Dale, R. (2015). Timescales of massive human entrainment. PLoS ONE, 10, e0122742.
  • Blackwell, N.L., Perlman, M., & Fox Tree, J.E. (2015). Quotation as a multimodal construction. Journal of Pragmatics, 81, 1-7.
  • Perlman, M., Clark, N., & Johansson Falck, M. (2015). Iconic prosody in story reading. Cognitive Science, 6, 1348-1368.
  • Perlman, M. & Cain, A. (2014). Iconicity in vocalizations, comparisons with gesture, and implications for the evolution of language. Gesture, 14, 320-350.
  • de Boer, B. & Perlman, M. (2014). Anatomical and physiological factors in the evolution of speech. Commentary on Ackerman, Hage, & Ziegler. Brain Mechanisms of acoustic communication in humans and nonhuman primates: an evolutionary perspective. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37, 552-553.
  • Winter, B., Perlman, M., & Matlock, T. (2013). Using space to talk and gesture about numbers: Evidence from the TV News Archive. Gesture, 13, 271-302.
  • Perlman, M. & Gibbs, R.W. Jr. (2013). Pantomimic gestures reveal the sensorimotor imagery of a human-fostered gorilla. Journal of Mental Imagery, 37, 73-96.
  • Perlman, M., Patterson, F.G., & Cohn, R.H.  (2012).  The human-fostered gorilla Koko shows breath control in play with wind instruments. Biolinguistics, 6, 433-444.
  • Gibbs, R.W. Jr., & Perlman, M.  (2010). Language understanding is grounded in experiential simulations: A response to Weiskopf. Commentary on D. Weiskopf. Embodied cognition and linguistic comprehension. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 41, 305-308.

Book chapters

  • Clark, N., Perlman, M., & Johansson Falck, M. (2014).  The iconic use of pitch to express vertical space.InB. Dancygier, M. Borkent, and J. Hinnell(Eds.) Language and the Creative Mind (pp. 393-410). Stanford: SCLI Publications.
  • Perlman, M., & Gibbs, R.W. Jr. (2013). Sensorimotor simulation in speaking, gesturing, and understanding. In C. Mueller, E. Fricke, A. Cienki, and D. McNeill (Eds.) Body-Language-Communication: An International Handbook. Berlin: Mouton.
  • Perlman, M. & Gibbs, R.W. Jr. (2013). Drawing motion that isn’t there: Psycholinguistic evidence on the spatial basis of metaphorical motion verbs. In J. Hudson, U. Magnusson, & C. Paradis (Eds.) Conceptual Spaces and the Construal of Spatial Meaning. Empirical Evidence from Human Communication. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Perlman, M., Tanner, J.E., & King, B.J. (2012). A mother gorilla’s variable use of touch to guide her infant: Insights into iconicity and the relationship between gesture and action. In S. Pika & K. Liebal (Eds.) Developments in Primate Gesture Research (pp. 55-72). John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Perlman, M. (2010).  Talking fast: The use of speech rate as iconic gesture. In F. Perrill, V. Tobin, & M. Turner (Eds.) Meaning, form, and body (pp. 245-262). Stanford: CSLI Publications.
  • Gibbs, R.W. Jr. & Perlman, M. (2006). The contested impact of cognitive linguistic research on the psycholinguistics of metaphor understanding. In G. Kristiansen, M. Achard, R. Dirven, & F. J. Ruiz de Mendoza Ibánez (Eds.). Cognitive Linguistics: Current Applications and Future Perspectives (pp. 211-228). New York: Mouton.

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