I’m currently working on the CAIL project, led by Dr Christine Cuskley and Dr Joel Wallenberg, which looks at the effect of cognitive constraints on the planning of linguistic structure using an information-theoretic analysis. I’m interested in the distribution/optimisation of information density by speakers for hearers, and its relevance to our understanding of how the capacity for language evolved. I’m also interested in whether information distribution variation can detect variation in age as a social variable, and the related question of whether cognitive ageing (or pathology) influences uniformity in language use. As part of this project, we are developing the InfoWave analysis tool for wider use.

PhD Research
My PhD (2017) was completed at the Centre for Language Evolution, University of Edinburgh.
How sensitive is the comprehension system to various grades of contextual information in the processing of reference? My thesis made the case that the answer is nontrivial for evolutionary questions about the emergence and adaptation of the language faculty. The theoretical chapters synthesised classical and psycholinguistic accounts of pragmatic processing, and situated these within an evolutionary framework. This derived pertinent testable hypotheses. The experimental chapters summarise a series of reaction time and production experiments that aim to shed light on how referential processing interacts with (i) knowledge shared (or not) by an interlocutor, (ii) community-level knowledge, and (iii) visual context. The results were mixed, but showed that hearers’ reference processing was sometimes indifferent to the knowledge state of speakers, and appeared to show a bias toward the hearer’s privileged (ie, private) information. This suggests that linguistic processing may be constrained by the need for economical use of cognitive resources, rather than being designed to generate more costly and accurate interpretations of utterances in all cases.

Talks and Publications

(2022)  Bailes, R., and Cuskley, C. The Cultural Evolution of Language [preprint]

(2021)  Bailes, R., Cuskley, C., Ingason, A.K., and Wallenberg, J.C. Linguistic planning for information uniformity is an adaptation for noise resistance, 7th International Conference “Ways to Protolanguage” (Protolang 7) [abstract][slides]

(2021)  Cuskley, C., Bailes, R., and Wallenberg, J.C. Noise resistance in communication: Quantifying uniformity and optimality, Cognition, 214: 104754 [article] [preprint]

(2021) Wallenberg, J.C., Bailes, R., Cuskley, C. and Ingason, A.K. Smooth Signals and Syntactic Change, Languages, 6 (2) 60 [article]

(2018) Shillcock, R., Thomas, J., and Bailes, R., Mirror Neurons, Prediction and Hemispheric Coordination: The Prioritizing of Intersubjectivity over `Intrasubjectivity’, Axiomathes, 29(2): 139-153 [article]

(2017) Bailes, R., Intrasubjectivity as a Precursor to Intersubjectivity: Prediction and emulation in hemispheric coordination, Minds, Mechanisms and Interaction in the Evolution of Language Workshop, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen. [accepted abstract]

(2017) Bailes, R. An evolutionary psycholinguistic account of the pragmatics of reference, PhD Dissertation, University of Edinburgh. [thesis]

(2013) Littauer, R., Roberts, S.G., Winters, J., Bailes, R., Pleyer, M. and Little,
H.., From the Savannah to the Cloud: Blogging Evolutionary Linguistics research, EVOLANG X Student Volume. [abstract]

(2013) Bailes, R. Levels of analysis in the common ground debate, Lab Talk, Centre for Language Evolution, University of Edinburgh. [slides]

(2012) Bailes, R., We evolved to read minds: an adaptationist account of common ground integration, Invited Lecture, Language Society of the University of Edinburgh.

(2012) Bailes, R., An adaptationist approach to the audience design hypothesis, The Evolution of Language (EVOLANG 9): Proceedings of the 9th International Conference. Singapore: World Scientific. [abstract]

(2012) Bailes, R., Facts about referents as conversational precedents, LEL Postgraduate Conference, University of Edinburgh. [slides]

(2011) Bailes, R., Hemispheric interaction, intersubjectivity and the emergence of language, LEL Postgraduate Conference, University of Edinburgh.

Research Communication and Events

(2019) Ideas with Paul Kennedy: “The Recurring Case of Recursion”, CBC Radio.

(2017) Interdisciplinary Research Event: Learning & Memory, organised with the Language and Cognition Research Group, Newcastle University

(2013) The Headspace with Mark Dance: “Animal Learning“, FreshAir Radio.

(2012-2013) Research blogging, A Replicated Typo

Culture Evolves! Exhibit, University of Edinburgh.
(2012) British Science Festival, Aberdeen
(2011) Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour Conference, St Andrews