Dr. Goodwin Gomez is a professor in the Anthropology Department at Rhode Island College. Her research and professional activities focus around the Yanomami and their languages and culture, the protection of the Amazon and other rain forest environments, and the defense of indigenous rights throughout the world. For more information, her website is here.
An introduction to the Yanomaman family and a closer look at two of the languages
The Yanomaman languages have over 30,000 native speakers, who live in a remote region of the Amazon rainforest on both sides of the border between northern Brazil and southern Venezuela. They are said to be the largest indigenous group in South America that still maintains its traditional culture and hunterer-gatherer-cultivator lifestyle. The Yanomaman family is small, comprised of four principal languages and a fifth, recently described language, that has less than 600 speakers. This talk focuses on two Yanomaman languages: Ninam and Yanomae, which the presenter has been docuenting since 1985. The topics to be examined during this talk include possession, nominal classification, and metaphor.
Susan Kalt’s current research focuses on sequential language acquisition of Quechua and Spanish in Bolivia and Peru. For more information, her website is here.
Acquisition, loss and change in Southern Quechua and Spanish – what happened to evidential marking?
Interviews in rural highlands Peru and Bolivia using graphic story narration (Kalt 2009, 2015, 2016) show that Peruvian speakers of Southern Quechua use evidential suffixes to express speaker stance and information source (experienced vs. hearsay) among other meanings, while these suffixes have been all but lost in Bolivia. Courtney (2015) has established a developmental sequence for the acquisition of these elements and their meanings in Cuzco Quechua. We test the hypothesis that language attrition proceeds in reverse order of child language acquisition (Jakobson 1941, Cook 1989) using the existing literature and our field data. Paradoxically, Babel (2009) and others claim that evidentiality has transferred to Spanish in the same region. A closer look reveals the emergence of a Spanish-like evidential particle in Southern Quechua, demonstrating a complex relationship between the two languages and their speakers, as well as relationships between acquisition, loss and change.
Please note that this LingLang Lunch will take place in the McKinney Conference Room (353) at the Watson Institute (111 Thayer Street), at the regular time.
Kasia Hitczenko is a graduate student from the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on infants’ acquisition of categories in language.
How to use context to disambiguate overlapping categories: The test case of Japanese vowel length
Infants learn the sound categories of their language and adults successfully process the sounds they hear, even though sound categories often overlap in their acoustics. Most researchers agree that listeners use context to disambiguate overlapping categories. However, they differ in their ideas about how context is used. One idea is that listeners normalize out the systematic effects of context from the acoustics of a sound. Another idea is that contextual information is itself an informative cue to category membership, providing top-down disambiguating information. These two ideas have been studied extensively in the literature, but they have mostly been studied using synthesized or carefully controlled lab speech. In this talk, we contrast the efficacy of these two strategies on spontaneous speech, by applying them to the test case of Japanese vowel length. We find that normalizing out contextual variability from the acoustics does not improve categorization, but using context in a top-down fashion does so substantially. This calls into question the role of normalization in phonetic acquisition and processing and suggests that approaches that make use of top-down contextual information are more promising to pursue.
Congratulations to Matt, Lauren, and Jim for a paper published recently in the Journal of the Acoustic Society of America! The title and abstract are as follows:
Articulatory peripherality modulates relative attention to the mouth during visual vowel discrimination.
Masapollo, Polka, and Ménard (2016) have recently reported that adults from different language backgrounds show robust directional asymmetries in unimodal visual-only vowel discrimination: a change in mouth-shape from one associated with a relatively less peripheral vowel to one associated with a relatively more peripheral vowel (in F1-F2 articulatory/acoustic vowel space) results in significantly better performance than a change in the reverse direction. In the present study, we used eye-tracking methodology to examine the gaze behavior of English-speaking subjects while they performed Masapollo et al.’s visual vowel discrimination task. We successfully replicated this directional effect using Masapollo et al.’s visual stimulus materials, and found that subjects deployed selective attention to the oral region compared to the ocular region of the model speaker’s face. In addition, gaze fixations to the mouth were found to increase while subjects viewed the more peripheral vocalic articulations compared to the less peripheral articulations, perhaps due to their larger, more extreme oral-facial kinematic patterns. This bias in subjects’ pattern of gaze behavior may contribute to asymmetries in visual vowel perception.
The full paper can be found here.