Monthly Archives: September 2017

LingLang Lunch (9/27/2017): Richard Futrell (MIT)

Richard Futrell’s research focuses on explaining linguistic universals and variation in terms of facilitating efficient and robust communication. For more information, his website is here.

Memory and Locality in Natural Language

I explore the hypothesis that the universal properties of human languages can be explained in terms of efficient communication given fixed human information processing constraints. First, I show corpus evidence from 37 languages that word order in grammar and usage is shaped by working memory constraints in the form of dependency locality: a pressure for syntactically linked words to be close to one another in linear order. Next, I develop a new theory of human language processing cost, based on rational inference in a noisy channel, that unifies surprisal and memory effects and goes beyond dependency locality to a new principle of information locality: that words that predict each other should be close. I show corpus evidence for information locality. Finally, I show that the new processing model resolves a long-standing paradox in the psycholinguistic literature, structural forgetting, where the effects of memory appear to be language-dependent.

Film Screening and Discussion (9/21/2017): “We Still Live Here – Âs Nutayuneân”

Thursday, September 21, 2017 5:00pm – 7:00pm
Smith-Buonanno Hall, Room 106, 95 Cushing Street, Providence RI

We Still Live Here, a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Anne Makepeace, tells the story of the return of the Wampanoag language. The film interweaves the present-day story Wampanoags reclaiming their language with historical events that silenced the language for more than a century and obliterated much of their culture – epidemics, missionary pressures, land loss, and the indenture of Native children.

A discussion with Jennifer Weston ’97, Brown alumni and the film’s co-producer, will follow the screening. Weston is the Immersion School Developer & Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Language Department Director for the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. She will talk about her work on the film and her ongoing involvement in language revitalization with indigenous nations of North America.

Free and open to the public. Reception to follow.

More details about the speaker and the event can be found here.

AY 2017-2018 Speaker Schedule


Fall 2017

Date Speaker Title
9/6/2017 LLL(Lite)
9/13/2017 Iris Berent (Northeastern University) Colloquium – On the origins of phonology
9/20/2017 Shiying Yang (Brown) FYP/QP Practice Talk – On the distinctiveness of Mandarin syllable and monosyllabic word contrasts
9/27/2017 Richard Futrell (MIT) Memory and Locality in Natural Language
10/18/2017 A’ingae Documentation Team (Brown) LLL(Lite) – UTRA Presentation + CILLA VIII Practice Talk
10/25/2017 LLL(Lite) – A Conversation with Faculty
11/1/2017 Laura Janda (UiT) What happens to a language under pressure: discriminatory language policy and language change in North Saami
11/10/2017 (FRI) Hadas Kotek (NYU) Which QuD
11/15/2017 Florian Schwarz (UPenn) Colloquium – The Time-course of Presupposition Projection – Experimental Data and Theoretical Issues
11/29/2017 Gale Goodwin Gomez (RIC) TBA
12/6/2017 Junwen Lee (Brown) LLL(Lite) – Dissertation Research Presentation

Spring 2018

Date Speaker Title
2/14/2018 LLL(Lite)
2/28/2018 Roey Gafter (Ben Gurion University) Pharyngeals and beyond: phonetic differences and phonemic mergers in Hebrew ([ ])
3/7/2018 Kasia Hitczenko(University of Maryland) How to use context to disambiguate overlapping categories: The test case of Japanese vowel length
3/14/2018 Susan Kalt (Roxbury Community College) Changes in Bolivian Quechua evidentiality
3/21/2018 Gale Goodwin Gomez (RIC) CANCELLED
4/4/2017 Meghan Armstrong-Abrami (UMass) Children’s detection of epistemic strength distinctions through prosody and the lexicon ([ ])
4/11/2018 Angela Carpenter (Wellesley College) Dialect change in immigrant speakers of Jamaican Creole
4/18/2018 Yiming Gu (Brown University) Tone sandhi in Ganyu Mandarin
4/25/2018 Haoru Zhang (Brown University) Phonetic Convergence in Mandarin
5/2/2018 Sandra Waxman (Northwestern University) Colloquium – Becoming human: How (and how early) do infants link language and cognition?

New paper published by Cohen Priva et al.: Converging to the baseline: Corpus evidence for convergence in speech rate to interlocutor’s baseline. (J Acoust Soc Am. 141(5): 2989)

Congratulations to Uriel, Emily, and Lee for a paper published recently in the Journal of the Acoustic Society of America! The title and abstract are as follows:

Converging to the baseline: Corpus evidence for convergence in speech rate to interlocutor’s baseline.

Speakers have been shown to alter their speech to resemble that of their conversational partner. Do speakers converge with their interlocutor’s baseline, or does convergence stem from conversational properties that similarly affect both parties? Using the Switchboard corpus, this paper shows evidence for speakers’ convergence in speech rate to the other party’s baseline, not only to conversation-specific properties. Study 1 shows that the method for calculating speech rate used in this paper is powerful enough to replicate established findings. Study 2 demonstrates that speakers are mostly affected by their own behavior in other contexts, but that they also converge to their interlocutor’s baseline, established using the interlocutor’s behavior in other contexts. Study 2 also shows that speakers change their speech rate in response to the interlocutor’s characteristics: speakers speak more slowly with older speakers regardless of the interlocutor’s speech rate, and male speakers speak faster with other male speakers.

The full paper can be found here.

Richard B. Millward Colloquium (9/13/2017): Iris Berent (Northeastern University)

Iris Berent’s research focuses on the issue of universal constraints in language and how it interacts with reading ability and disability. Her work spans multiple disciplines such as phonology, neurology, as well as developmental issues like language acquisition and dyslexia, and involves various experimental methods like behavioral studies and measures of brain responses. For more information, her website is here.

On the origins of phonology

Why do humans drink and drive, but rarely rdink and rdive? Here, I suggest that these regularities could reflect abstract phonological principles that are active in the minds and brains of all speakers. In support of this hypothesis, I show that (a) people converge on the same phonological preferences (e.g., drarda) even when the relevant structures (e.g., dra, rda) are unattested in their language; and (b) their behavior is inexplicable by purely sensorimotor pressures and experience with similar syllables. Further support for the distinction between phonology and the sensorimotor system is presented by their dissociation in dyslexia, on the one hand, and the transfer of phonological knowledge from speech to sign, on the other. A detailed analysis of the phonological system can elucidate the functional architecture of the typical mind/brain and the etiology of speech and language disorders.