Congratulations to Elena, Dave, and Jim for a new paper out in Developmental Science! The title and abstract are as follows:
Eighteen‐month‐olds selectively generalize words from accurate speakers to novel contexts.
The present studies examine whether and how 18‐month‐olds use informants’ accuracy to acquire novel labels for novel objects and generalize them to a new context. In Experiment 1, two speakers made statements about the labels of familiar objects. One used accurate labels and the other used inaccurate labels. One of these speakers then introduced novel labels for two novel objects. At test, toddlers saw those two novel objects and heard an unfamiliar voice say one of the labels provided by the speaker. Only toddlers who had heard the novel labels introduced by the accurate speaker looked at the appropriate novel object above chance. Experiment 2 explored possible mechanisms underlying this difference in generalization. Rather than making statements about familiar objects’ labels, both speakers asked questions about the objects’ labels, with one speaker using accurate labels and the other using inaccurate labels. Toddlers’ generalization of novel labels for novel objects was at chance for both speakers, suggesting that toddlers do not simply associate hearing the accurate label with the reliability of the speaker. We discuss these results in terms of potential mechanisms by which children learn and generalize novel labels across contexts from speaker reliability.
The full paper can be found here. In addition, more information about Elena can be found on her professional website https://www.elenaluchkina.com/.
On April 18th and April 25th we will hear two Masters thesis presentations from Yiming Gu and Haoru Zhang.
Yiming Gu: Tone Sandhi in Ganyu Mandarin
Tone sandhi in Ganyu, a Mandarin dialect, is relatively complicated. There were only a few descriptive works in existing literature. By using prosodic structure, the thesis provides a uniform explanation to non-focused pitched syllable tone sandhi in Ganyu from the perspective of Optimality Theory. In the analysis, a syllable contains three pitch targets underlyingly, while in the output only two targets are allowed. Phonological phrase and foot are constructed via the ranking of phonosyntactic constraints. Pitch-sensitive constraints which are responsible for each and every sandhi phenomenon are motivated by tonal saliency, metrical integrity, target realizability, and pitch faithfulness. In addition, the thesis proposes a new concept: dependent pitch target. Phonologically-relevant creaky or falsetto sounds, as found in Ganyu and neighboring dialects, are dependent pitch targets which must follow a low or high target, and they are very shot in duration. The analysis covers disyllabic and trisyllabic feet both at the final position of a phonological phrase and at the non-final position. The analysis can be extended to cases which involve focus-stressed syllables and pitch-less syllables in future investigations.
Haoru Zhang: Phonetic Convergence in Mandarin
Phonetic convergence is the phenomenon that speakers’ acoustic and phonetic characteristics increase in similarity with each others’ during communication. This phenomenon has been gaining increasing interest over recent years, and many measures have been claimed to be subjected to convergence, such as fundamental frequency (F0), formants, VOT, duration, etc. The current study contributes to the field by investigating these measures on Mandarin, a tonal language. The results reveal potential differences in sensitivity to convergence across measures, especially among tone-related variables.
Angela Carpenter is Associate Professor of Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences at Wellesley College. Her research has focused on the phonological acquisition of both child language and adult second language, especially the acquisition of stressed syllables and function words in L1 acquisition, and factors that affect acquisition of a second language. For more information, her website is here.
Dialect change in immigrant speakers of Jamaican Creole
The process of dialect change occurs frequently in the world’s languages, as it is one of the results of population migration. Dialect change occurs when speakers of one dialect of a language emigrate to an area where another dialect of the same language is spoken. This type of migration has occurred quite notably across the English-speaking world where, for example, speakers of one version of English, such as Canadian English or Jamaican English move to Great Britain, where British English is spoken (Chambers 1992, Tagliamonte and Molfenter 2007, Wells 1973). In this particular study I am focusing on the dialectal change Jamaican Creole (JC) towards Standard American English (SAE) by Jamaicans who immigrated to the U.S. The phonological aspects of JC that differ from SAE include: 1) vowel merging, such that in JC “black” and “block” are homophones; 2) glide insertion between velar stops and a following low back vowel, such as saying [kjar] ‘kyar’ and not [kar] ‘car’; 3) h-dropping and/or hypercorrection, such as saying [an] for ‘hand’; but [hɛgz] for ‘eggs’; and 4) merging of [ie] and [eə] into [ie] so that in JC ‘beer’ and ‘bear’ are homophones. To fully acquire SAE speakers of JC have to change their phonology towards the American standard. This talk is a preliminary report on dialect change among a group of Jamaicans who have lived in the Northeast U.S. for many years. We analyze to what extent they have acquired SAE.
Meghan Armstrong is an Assistant Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Her main line of research deals with intonational development. Her current work deals with how epistemic meaning is encoded intonationally. For more information, her website is here.
Children’s detection of epistemic strength distinctions through prosody and the lexicon
Children make great strides in their comprehension of strength distinctions for epistemic modal verbs between the ages of 4 and 6 (Papafragou, 1998). However, while strength distinctions like might/will are lexicalized, the epistemic strength of mid-scalar epistemic modal verbs can also be modulated prosodically allowing a speaker to either highlight that something is quite likely, or highlight that something is less likely. While prosody is extremely important for development during the first year, it has been shown that as children’s receptive vocabulary increases they begin to pay extra attention to lexical information, perhaps at the expense of prosody (Friend 2001). For mental state verbs like think/know, Moore, Harris & Patriquin (1993) found that 4- and 5-year-olds were more successful at using these verbs for inferring degree of certainty than they were at using prosody (rising vs. falling) with no lexical indicators of mental states. Here we ask whether a lexical advantage can also be found for the case of epistemic modal verbs.
In our task children saw, on a Powerpoint presentation, a set of twins and their mutual friend, who was having a birthday party. For each trial, children were told that the friend either wanted something (e.g. a football – positive valence) or did not want something (e.g. socks – negative valence). The friend was asking the twins whether or not they would give him/her that thing for his/her birthday. Each twin responded with pre-recorded epistemic modal expressions differing in strength. The might/will contrast was used for the lexical condition (e.g. I will/might give you a football), while in the prosody condition epistemic strength of the verb might was modulated by one of two intonational contours conveying stronger vs. weaker epistemic strength, along with pitch range differences (wide for stronger and compressed for weaker). Children had to decide which twin the friend would want to come to his/her birthday party, based on what each twin said. Sixty monolingual American English-speaking children, aged 3-7, participated. There were 12 trials with two blocks, one for positive valence and the other for negative, with one familiarization trial for each block. The results show that the youngest children in the study show an emerging ability to detect modal strength through lexical items but perform at chance levels for the prosodic condition. They get increasingly better at both conditions between the ages of 4 and 5, but with a clear advantage for the lexical condition. This advantage disappears by 6 years old, with 6- and 7-year-olds performing at ceiling. The findings echo prior studies on children’s detection of distinctions in modal strength, with detection of certainty through prosody lagging behind. Results suggest that prosodic meaning may take a “backseat” to lexical meaning in the preschool years, but this effect disappears by early school age. The findings also suggest that prosodic information can generate a pragmatic implicature (in this case the directionality of the meaning of the word might), which makes a child’s pragmatic development important for understanding their prosodic development. Implications for prosodic acquisition are discussed.