Curriculum Vitae

Alan Nielsen

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Language and Cognition Department
Room 272B, Wundtlaan 1
Nijmegen, The Netherlands                6525XD

Research Interests

Language Acquisition
Language Development
Artificial Language Learning


Crossmodal Perception
Lexical Access


Language Evolution
Animal Communication
Comparative Psychology
Writing Systems
Language Use
Signalling Games

Academic Positions
Visiting Researcher

Language and Cognition Group
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
Supervisors: Dr. Stephen Levinson, Dr. Mark Dingemanse

PhD. Psycholinguistics (Language Evolution and Computation)

Thesis: Systematicity, motivatedness, and the structure of the lexicon
Centre for Language Evolution; School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences
The University of Edinburgh
Supervisors: Dr. Kenny Smith, Prof. Simon Kirby, Dr. Julia Simner
Examiners: Dr. Mits Ota (University of Edinburgh), Dr. Padraic Monaghan (Lancaster University)

MSc. Psychology (Evolution and Behaviour)

Thesis: Sound Symbolism and the Bouba-Kiki effect: Uniting function and mechanism in the search for language universals
School of Psychology
The University of Lethbridge
Supervisors: Dr. Drew Rendall, Dr. John Vokey, Dr. Bryson Brown

BSc. Psychology

School of Psychology
The University of Lethbridge
Supervisors: Dr. Drew Rendall, Dr. David Logue


Peer Reviewed Publications
Parsing the role of consonants versus vowels in the classic Takete-Maluma phenomenon

Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall
Canadian Journal ofExperimentalPsychology, 67, 153-163.




The source and magnitude of sound symbolic biases in processing artificial word material and their implications for language learning and transmission

Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall
Language and Cognition, 4, 115-126.




The sound of round: Evaluating the sound-symbolic role of consonants in the classic Takete-Maluma phenomenon

Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall
Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65, 115-124.




Book Chapters
Comparative perspectives on human and primate communication: Grounding meaning in broadly conserved processes of voice production, perception, affect, and cognition

Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall
The Oxford Handbook of Voice Perception
Eds: Sascha Fruholz & Pascal Belin

In Press



Manuscripts In Preparation, Review, and Revision
The arbitrariness of the sign revisited: The role of phonological similarity in an artificial language learning paradigm

Alan Nielsen, Dieuwke Hupkes, Simon Kirby, & Kenny Smith

In Prep



Sound-symbolic words are easier to learn, but inhibit learning of conventional words

Alan Nielsen, Julia Simner, Simon Kirby, & Kenny Smith
Submitted to Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition- XLM-2016-2739

In Revision



The influence of signal space saturation on artificial language learning: Implications for the Sound-Symbolic Bootstrapping hypothesis

Alan Nielsen, Simon Kirby, & Kenny Smith

In Prep



Conference Papers, Talks, and Symposia
Systematicity, motivatedness, and language learning

Talk given to the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Colloquium series

Recasting the magic bullet: Testing the limits of the effectiveness of iconicity for language learning

Talk given to the Iconicity Focus Group- Radboud University/Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics




The arbitrariness of the sign revisited: The role of phonological similarity in language learning

Paper accepted for Evolang XI, New Orleans, USA
Alan Nielsen, Dieuwke Hupkes, Simon Kirby, & Kenny Smith




Motivated vs. convenional systematicity: Implications for language learning and the structure of the lexicon

Paper presented at Evolang X, Vienna University, Austria
Alan Nielsen, Dieuwke Hupkes, Simon Kirby, & Kenny Smith




Sound symbolism and the Bouba-Kiki effect

Poster presented at the 2012 European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association annual meeting
Durham, UK.
Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall




Transparency, rule construction, and the Bouba-kiki effect

Poster presented at the 30th Banff Annual Seminar in  Cognitive Science
Banff, Canada
Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall




The sound of round: Evidence for implicit sound symbolism

Poster presented at the 22nd annual Human Behaviour and Evolution Society conference
Eugene, Oregon, USA.
Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall




The Bouba-Kiki effect: Testing an alternative hypothesis for a classic finding in Psychology

Talk presented at the Department of Psychology Undergraduate Research Symposium
Lethbridge, Canada.
Alan Nielsen & Drew Rendall




Individual recognition and aggression in Gromphadorina portentosa

Talk presented at the Luke Stebbins Research Symposium
(winner of the inaugural Luke Stebbins award for best undergraduate research talk)
Lethbridge, Canada.
Alan Nielsen & David Logue




Current Research Projects
Global sound-symbolic patterns in the orthography of the world’s languages

w/ Dieuwke Hupkes

Is there a relationship between the orthographic forms representing sounds and the acoustic or phonological features of those sounds? We are currently exploring this possibility using a number of computational and experimental approaches

The establishment and maintenance of non-arbitrary elements in the lexicon

w/ Bill Thompson

What is the temporal and structural patterning of the acquisition and deployment of non-arbitrary elements in natural languages. Using agent-based bayesian models we suggest that structural and temporal isolation of motivated word-meaning associations allows for optimal learning.

Testing global sound-symbolism in the lab

w/ Damian Blasi & Gary Lupyan

In this project, we test the psychological reality and strength of worldwide tendencies to associate certain phonemes with certain meanings. Is ‘lengua’ a good word for tongue because it contains preferred phonemes?

The role of systematicity in Japanese ideophones

w/ Mits Ota & Mark Dingemanse

Why is reduplication so common in Japanese ideophones, but uncommon in the rest of the lexicon? We suggest that reduplication is a systematic cue that helps disambiguate the iconic content of ideophones.

The centrality of emotion in crossmodal perception

w/ David Sidhu

Relationships between cognitive and perceptual domains, such as the association between high pitch and perceptual brightness abound in the crossmodal perception literature. In this project we suggest that emotional valence might be a central mediator of these associations.

Grants, Awards, & Fellowships

NSERC Postgraduate Scholarship- Doctorate

Government of Alberta Graduate Student Scholarship

School of Graduate Studies Entrance Award

Jason Lang Memorial Scholarship

Luke Stebbins Aware for Undergraduate Research Achievement in Biology

NSERC Summer Research Award

University of Lethbridge Undergraduate Scholarship

Alberta Heritage Scholarship









Teaching Priorities

Critical thinking
Evolutionary theory
The scientific method
Experimental design
Communication and engagement
Research experience
Academic transparency

Topics and Proposed Courses

Introduction to Psychology
Comparative Communication: Animal and human signals
Evolution and Behaviour
Sensation and Perception
Cognitive Psychology
Introductory Statistics
Statistics and Experimental Design
The Evolution of Language
Synesthesia and Crossmodal Perception
Language and Consciousness


Teaching Assistant
Introduction to Psychology (University of Lethbridge, University of Edinburgh)
Introduction to Linguistics (University of Edinburgh)
Research Methods and Statistics I (University of Edinburgh)
Animal Behaviour (University of Lethbridge)
Sensation and Perception (University of Lethbridge)
Psycholinguistics (University of Lethbridge)
Origins and Evolution of Language (University of Edinburgh)



Cross-cultural sound symbolism
BSc. (Hons) Dissertation, The Center for Language Evolution, The University of Edinburgh
Amie Fairs

The implications of sound-symbolism for names
Independent Study, The University of Lethbridge
Rhys Hakstol

Professional Activities
Professional Society Memberships

Human Behaviour and Evolution Society
European Human Behaviour and Evolution Society


Journal of Cognitive Psychology
Language and Cognition
Evolang 2014, 2016
Cognitive Science
Cogsci 2015, 2016
Ammons Scientific
Language and Speech

Skills and Specialisations
Computer and Technical

Statistical Analysis- NCSS/SPSS/R
Programming- Livecode, Processing, Python
Data Collection- Crowdflower, Mechanical Turk

Teaching and Outreach

CAETL Teaching Assistant professional development program
Science Communication


Professor Simon Kirby

Professor of Language Evolution, Postgraduate Director
Center for Language Evolution
The University of Edinburgh

Dr. Kenny Smith

Reader in Language Evolution, PPLS Research Director
Center for Language Evolution
The University of Edinburgh

Dr. Drew Rendall

Professor of Behaviour and Evolution, Dean of Graduate Studies
Behaviour and Evolution Research Group
The University of New Brunswick