Monthly Archives: April 2017

LingLang Lunch (4/26/2017): Jon Gajewski (University of Connecticut)

Jon Gajewski’s research interests are in semantics and the syntax/semantics interface. His work focuses on polarity phenomena such as Neg-raising and polarity items, as well as on comparative and superlative quantifiers. For more information, his website is here.

It’s not syntax, I don’t think: Neg-raising and parentheticals

English allows a construction in which a sentence contains a parenthetical with a clausal gap, as in (i).  I will refer to phrases such as I think in (i) as clausal parentheticals.  Typically, clausal parentheticals cannot be negative, cf. (ii).

(i) There is beer in the fridge, I think.
(ii) *There is beer in the fridge, I don’t think.

It has been noted that when the clausal parenthetical contains a Neg-raising predicate, an apparent doubling of a negation in the main clause is allowed, as in (iii).

(iii) There is no beer in the fridge, I (don’t) think.

This doubling has been taken to be an argument in favor of syntactic approaches to Neg-raising, as in Ross (1973) and Collins & Postal (2014). I will defend an analysis of the doubling in (iii) that is compatible with a semantic/pragmatic approach to Neg-raising, as in Horn 1989, Gajewski 2007, Romoli 2013.

LingLang Lunch (4/19/2017): Kristine Yu (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Kristine Yu’s research focuses on tone and intonation at all levels of language from the speech signal to grammar and human language processing, as well as ways to model them mathematically. For more information, her website is here.

Parsing with prosody: towards a computational model of prosodically-informed syntactic parsing in Samoan

It has long been clear that syntax determines certain aspects of prosody, and that prosody should therefore be part of the grammar influencing the action of the syntactic parser. Moreover, a body of theoretical work exists proposing general theories of how syntax determines certain aspects of prosody (but not others). However, what has remained unclear is how to bring prosody into the grammar to inform the parser. This is because of the many interacting, conditioning factors on prosody that may obscure the informativity of prosodic information for syntactic analysis. Our strategy for moving forward is to define and compare computational models of the interface which capture fundamental properties that distinguish proposed theories from one another—starting with case studies where syntax is clearly the primary determining factor for prosody. This talk is about a first case study on Samoan, which provides clear cases of prosodic events that are under the control of the syntax. We briefly review empirical evidence from original fieldwork about the syntax-prosody interface in Samoan. Then we introduce work towards a computational model of parsing in Samoan inspired by current ideas about the syntax-prosody interface in natural language: (1) a finite state optimality-theoretic transduction that generates licit parses of a sentence into phonological constituents, and (2) a syntactic parser that compares possible syntactic parses with the prosodic parses and computes optimal parses based on syntax-prosody interface constraints relating syntactic and phonological constituents.

LingLang Lunch (4/12/2017): Annemarie Kocab (Harvard)

Annemarie Kocab’s research mainly focuses on how humans create and acquire languages, studying the emerging language Nicaraguan Sign Language as well as using language creation paradigms in the lab. For more information, a brief write-up of her is here on the Snedeker Lab website.

Language Emergence: Evidence from Nicaraguan Sign Language

While every human society has a language, no other animal has a communication system with this scope and complexity, and no other animal can acquire such a system as readily as we do. A central challenge for cognitive science is to discover where language comes from and what properties of human minds and communities allow for its creation. Recently, the study of emerging sign languages, such as Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), has allowed us to gain traction on this question. In this talk, I present evidence from two lines of work, one looking at what semantic relations a new language is able to express, using temporal language as a case study, and the other looking at what properties are evident in a new language, focusing on recursion.
NSL is a new language that has emerged over the past 30 years in a community of deaf Nicaraguans. Before the 1970s, deaf individuals had little contact with each other and there was no commonly used sign language. In the late 1970s, the government opened new schools for special and vocational education. For the first time, deaf Nicaraguan children and adolescents gathered together and began to communicate through gestures. A new sign language emerged and continues to develop to this day.

LingLang Lunch (3/8/2017): Kevin Tang (Yale)

Kevin Tang’s work focuses on experimental phonology with an emphasis on how linguistic contrasts are conditioned by lexical knowledge, specifically the extent to which speakers and listeners utilize their prior experiences in speech production and perception as well as in the phonologization of statistical patterns. For more information, his website is here.

Experience and expectation predict fine details of perception and production

It is well known that phonemes with otherwise similar phonological behavior may be produced differently (e.g. VOT, (Cho & Ladefoged, 1999)) or perceived differently (e.g. consonant confusions (Harnsberger, 2001)) depending on the language. Discussion of these facts has often remained at the observational level. In this talk I will present evidence that fine details of production and perception owe to the fact that speakers and listeners have statistical expectations about segments and words in their languages. I will draw evidence for this conclusion from a series of production and perception studies, drawing on durational difference between singleton and geminate consonants in Cypriot Greek and Italian, the perceptual similarity of consonants and word duration in Kaqchikel Mayan, and lexical mistrieval in English. These phenomena are all conditioned by high-level factors such as functional load, contextual predictability and prior phonetic experience. Some implications of the interplay between these high-level factors and low-level phonetic details are discussed, touching on the areas of phonological reduction, contrast enhancement and neutralisation, and sound change.

LingLang Lunch (3/1/2017): Steve Emet (Brown University)

Steve Emet’s research interests are in semantics and syntax. Previously, he has worked on the semantics of Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) in embedded contexts.

I just think… : the meaning of just and its role in discourse

This talk will be focused on the meaning and use of the English word just. Previous accounts have treated just as primarily an exclusive operator along the lines of only, albeit with a wider range of application. In some uses, just is very close to only.  However, unlike only, just operates primarily at the discourse level. I elaborate this using data from the Switchboard corpus. The usage of just displays significant effects for gender age, with females and younger individuals more likely to use it, a pattern consistent with other linguistic trends. The corpus data also reveal differences between just and only that haven’t been focused on in previous literature. Just is significantly more likely than only to occur with psychological verbs such as think.  To explain this, I describe a usage of just which I call “conclusive just” or “all-things-considered just“, where just is used to convey a final, settled point-of-view, despite potentially countervailing considerations. This usage is related to but distinct from deprecatory and emphatic uses of just, and contributes to the frequent occurrence of just with psychological verbs.

Colloquium (2/22/2017): Anne H. Charity Hudley, (The College of William and Mary)

Charity Hudley’s research and publications address the relationship between language variation and Pre K-16 educational practices and policies. Her first two books, Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools and We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom are co-authored with Christine Mallinson and published by Teachers College Press. Her third book, Highest Honors: A Guide to Undergraduate Research, co-authored with Cheryl Dickter and Hannah Franz, will also appear in 2017 with Teachers College Press. For more information, her website is here.

The Racialization of African-American English: Insights from Linguistics & Psychology

While language and race are often discussed as separate objects of inquiry, it impossible to discuss one without the other as language and race are inextricably co-constructed. Furthermore, both the humanistic and scientific study of language have served to racialize individuals and communities. Through examples from her work on language and culture in schools in the U.S. South, Charity Hudley presents ways that raciolinguistic ideologies are reproduced and contested in linguistic and psychological research on African-Americans. She provides insights on ways that social psycholinguistic work can empower African-American’s own self-concepts of their language. This talk will present methodologies for addressing persistent issues of internalized racism in students and educators. Charity Hudley also demonstrates how the study of language and race may be approached in ways that create a more seamless continuum between basic and applied research.

LingLang Lunch (2/22/2017): Seth Cable (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Seth Cable’s research interests are in semantics and syntax, and he has done a lot of work on the Na-Dene languages, a family of Native American languages, especially on Tlingit, which is spoken by the Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska and Western Canada. For more information, his website is here.

Negation and Antonymy in Tlingit

The central focus of this talk is the curious morpho-syntactic structure of certain negative predicates in the Tlingit language (Na-Dene; Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon). In Tlingit, there is a small but highly frequent set of stative, gradable antonym pairs, where the negative antonym is formed from: (i) the root of the positive antonym, (ii) the negation marker tlél (or hél), (iii) an additional (unproductive) morphological operation. To illustrate, the following are the expressions in Tlingit meaning ‘it is good’, ‘it is bad’, and ‘it is not good’.

(1) a. yakʼéi            b. tlél ushkʼé                       c. tlél ukʼé
  0CL.good          NEG CL.good          NEG IRR.0CL.good
It is good.           It is bad.                               It is not good.

Note that while (1b) and (1c) both contain the negation marker, (1b) differs in that the so-called ‘verbal classifier’ prefix has shifted from ‘0’ to sh-.

The primary goal of this talk is to develop and defend a formal syntactic and semantic analysis of negative predicates like (1b), one that both elucidates their morpho-syntactic structure and explains how that structure is mapped onto their observed meaning. In particular, I will show that: (i) the negation appearing in (1b) is VP-external, clausal negation, and is not an incorporated negation (unlike English un- or non-); (ii) the meaning of (1b) is indeed that of a gradable negative predicate, and is not simply the propositional negation of (1a) (unlike the meaning of (1c)). The case for these two claims will be based upon a variety of facts and phenomena surrounding these structures, particularly their interactions with degree modifiers. Under my proposed analysis, the morphological operation observed in (1b) is the effect of a special Degree-Operator, one that can only be licensed by (clausal) negation, and must undergo movement to SpecNegP (in effect, a negative-concord item). We will see that this analysis predicts a variety of facts concerning (1b), especially its syntactic/semantic contrasts with (1c).

Furthermore, I show that the proposed analysis of (1b) has consequences for our understanding of negative gradable adjectives in English. In brief, so-called ‘Cross-Polar Nomalies’ (CPNs) have been argued to show that all negative adjectives in English contain an underlying negation (Büring 2007, Heim 2008). I show that similar ‘CPNs’ can be found in Tlingit. However, due to idiosyncrasies of Tlingit morpho-syntax, Büring’s (2007) analysis of CPNs has an advantage over Heim’s (2008) with respect to the Tlingit facts.

LingLang Lunch (2/15/2017): Sudha Arunachalam (Boston University)

Sudha Arunachalam is interested in how children acquire verbs, including their lexical and event semantic properties, how they represent these along with their syntactic properties, and how they access these representations during online comprehension–in both typical and atypical development. . For more information, her website is here.

Informativeness and processing cost in verb acquisition: Evidence from typical language development and autism spectrum disorder

Acquiring the meanings of verbs is a notoriously challenging task of early childhood. One helpful source of information about verb meaning is the linguistic context in which verbs appear, but to make use of linguistic context (in a process known as syntactic bootstrapping), children have to deploy their still developing language processing skills. We have found that to be supportive for verb acquisition, linguistic contexts must achieve a balance between providing helpful information for learning and being sufficiently easy to process. We recently developed a new paradigm to see what kinds of linguistic contexts parents use, and how children process their parents’ speech in real-time. Our results indicate that parents are sensitive to this balance and tailor their language to provide supportive contexts. Because children with language and communication disorders such as autism often have impaired processing ability, we are also beginning to explore what this balance looks like for children with autism and how their parents tailor their language accordingly.

LingLang Lunch (2/1/2017): Maria Piñango (Yale)

Maria Piñango’s research focuses mainly on how the process of integration of different linguistic information (i.e. semantic and syntactic information) during comprehension in real-time occurs, and how differences in the process of integration find corresponds to cortical realization and distribution. She is also interested in the characterization of language deficits that result from brain damage, and in the interaction between linguistic processes and other cognitive capacities such as memory. For more information, a brief write-up of her is here.

Eventive iteration construal during real-time comprehension, its neurological underpinnings and the grammar-meaning connection

The composition of a semelfactive predicate, jump, and a for-adverbial, such as (1) Frances jumped for an hour, engenders an iterative reading (multiple jumping events) and additional processing cost, as compared to (2) Frances ran for an hour.1, 2, 3 The cost is captured by the Partition Measure hypothesis, which argues that for-adverbials contain a universal quantifier that quantifies over the subintervals of the interval that they denotes4. A non-infinitesimal partition measure interpretation of the subintervals gives rise to the iterative reading: Frances jumped repeatedly for an hour. An infinitesimal reading is always available and results in no-cost to the processor. The associated processing cost, results from construing from context a necessary partition measure; such partition measure determines the set of subintervals of the for-interval. Crucially on this account, an iterative reading emerging from the composition of a for-adverbial with either a “punctual” (jump) or “durative” (swim) predicate will engender processing cost since in both cases a partition measure has to be construed. We test this prediction by examining the time-course and brain localization of durative and punctual iteration vs. no-iteration:

Condition Sentence
Punctual_Iteration Frances jumped for 10 minutes before starting to swim.
Durative_Iteration ….. ….. ran for 10 years ….. ….. ….. ….. ….. …..
No_Iteration ….. ….. ran for 10 minutes …… ….. ….. ….. ….. …..

The Partition Measure hypothesis predicts both Punctual and Durative_Iteration to be costly vis-à-vis no-iteration because both involve contextual retrieval of (non-infinitesimal) partition measures that yield iterative readings. In the talk I present recent results from our lab* which test the prediction of longer reading times (Study 1, Self-Paced Reading) and overlapping brain activation (study 2, fMRI) for both conditions vs. no-iteration. Together with other observations from our lab and others these results support the existence of a generalized mechanism of real-time meaning composition like the invoked by the Partition Measure hypothesis; a mechanism that appears computationally costly and that recruits predictable cortical regions5,6,7,8. The results are framed within the larger and richer discussion of the structure of the interface between grammar and the rest of cognition, the nature of the processing system that implements it and the structure of the conceptual system as the mental space where meaning building, including linguistic meaning building, could take place.

[1] Moltmann, F. (1991) Measure adverbials. Linguistics and Philosophy, 14:629–660.
[2] Jackendoff, R. (1997) The architecture of the language faculty. No. 28. MIT Press.
[3] Piñango, M., Zurif, E., and Jackendoff, R. (1999) Real-time processing implications of enriched composition at the syntax–semantics interface. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 28(4): 395–414.
[4] Deo, A. & Piñango, M.M. (2011) Quantification and context in measure adverbials. Proceedings from SALT 2011, Rutgers
University, NJ.
[5] Shapiro, L.P.& Levine, B. (1990). Verb processing during sentence comprehension in aphasia. Brain and Language, 38, 21-47.
[6] Piñango, M.M. & Zurif, E. (2001). Semantic Operations in Aphasic Comprehension: Implications for the Cortical Organization of Language, 79, 297-308.
[7] Pylkkänen, L. and McElree. B. (2007) An MEG study of silent meaning. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19(11), 1905-1921.
[8] Lai et al. (2016) The structured individual hypothesis for processing aspectual verbs. Proceedings of Berkeley Linguistics Society 42, 135-152.