Monthly Archives: June 2018

LingLang Lunch (2/4/2015): Philip Hofmeister (Brown University)

Expectations and linguistic acceptability judgments

A growing and convergent body of evidence points to the role of expectations in online language processing and learning. This evidence includes data which indicate that processing efficiency for various sentential constructions can be improved by making them more expected (viz., more frequent) in a linguistic context (Wells et al 2009; Fine et al 2013). Here, I consider how expectations bear on acceptability judgments and, more specifically, shifts in acceptability judgment patterns. The hypothesis under consideration is that acceptability judgment responses reflect expectations based on previous experience. A prediction of such a hypothesis is that judgments for such constructions are mutable. In a series of acceptability tasks, I illustrate that participants systematically alter their responses over the course of the experiment, such that relatively unacceptable constructional variants improve with repetition. This holds across a range of data including sentences with case errors, resumptive pronouns, island violations, center-embeddings, and more. I will construe this to mean that judgments, like a variety of other response types, are sensitive to probabilistic factors and I will point to the implications of such findings for our understanding of grammatical change.

LingLang Lunch (2/25/2015): Timothy Grinsell (University of Chicago)

Verdicts, Voters, and Vectors: Three Sources of Evidence for One Theory of Vagueness

This talk presents three sources of evidence for the notion that linguistic vagueness results from the aggregation of a set of judgments. The word healthy, for instance, aggregates judgments along a number of contextually supplied “dimensions,” including blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. (with the relevant dimensions contextually determined). Given certain weak assumptions, the combinatorial problems associated with aggregating judgments along multiple dimensions explain healthy’s vagueness effects.

I present three sources of evidence for this view. The first comes from jury verdicts. In some cases, juries are required to assign percentage values to a defendant’s negligence, representing that portion of fault attributable to the defendant (e.g. 80% negligent). A study of about 800 jury verdicts (Best & Donohue 2012) shows that juries tend to assign these percentages in clumpy ways. This clumpiness provides evidence for a discontinuous scale structure, consistent with the aggregation hypothesis. Second, the well-known distinction between “absolute” and “relative” adjectives (Rotstein & Winter 2004, Kennedy & McNally 2005) provides evidence that unidimensionality reduces or eliminates vagueness effects, consistent with research in political science (like the Median Voter Theorem) that unidimensionality eliminates the aggregation problem (Sen 1970). Third, a topological view of the aggregation problem (Chichilnisky 1982) finds support in the representation of concepts as continuous spaces, in which dimensions are vectors (Gärdenfors 2000, 2014).

LingLang Lunch (3/4/2015): Tania Rojas-Esponda (Stanford University)

Discourse particles and focus effects in a question-under-discussion framework

Discourse particles provide important signals in conversation, by helping speakers and hearers coordinate on the course of an interaction. Therefore, a precise understanding of discourse particles will provide new insights into the pragmatics of conversation. I will present a framework based on questions under discussion that allows us to capture the key information-theoretic structures in conversation that seem to affect the use of discourse particles: the presence or absence of presuppositions, the issues guiding a conversation, and how interlocutors move between these issues. In this talk, I will present two case studies of German discourse particles that highlight central aspects of the QUD framework: ‘überhaupt’ and ‘doch.’ These raise a challenge found in particle systems in many languages: lexicalized focus. Many languages possess particles that can occur with or without focus, and the meanings associated with the unfocused and focused variants are often very different. Since intonation can have discourse-managing functions similar to that of discourse particles, the effect of having or lacking focus marking directly *on* a particle is different from the effect of focus on regular content words. I will identify patterns that allow us to systematically distinguish the meanings of focused and unfocused particles in a focused/unfocused pair. This serves as a stepping stone towards understanding the interplay of grammar, intonation, and interaction.

LingLang Lunch (3/18/2015): Václav Cvrček (Institute of the Czech National Corpus)

Descriptive vs prescriptive approach. The case of Czech grammar

The sociolinguistic situation of Czech is usually described as being close to diglossia: there are two competing varieties, one is expected in formal situations, while the other a real vernacular, is a mother tongue of the vast majority of speakers. This situation has its historical reasons with the most important of them being the prescriptive approach to language regulation, which was applied to the description of Czech since the beginning of the 19th century and is still prevailing (cf. Starý 1993). In my talk I will focus on the problem of descriptive and prescriptive approach to language regulation. I will document these contrasting points of view on the example of Grammar of Contemporary Czech (Cvrček et al., 2010) which is the first corpus-based description of Czech and which was designed to form a counterpart to prescriptive reference books.

LingLang Lunch (4/1/2015): Junwen Lee (Brown University)

Lah revisited – A modal analysis

The linguistic function of the Colloquial Singapore English (CSE) particle lah has been characterized variously as a marker to convey solidarity, warmth and informality; an attenuation or emphasis marker; an assertion marker; and an accommodation marker. As the particle can be pronounced using several pitch contours, the particle has generally been analyzed as either a set of homonymic variants that are distinguished by pitch and function, or a unitary particle that has the same meaning despite tonal differences. However, I argue against both approaches – the former conflates pragmatic function and semantic meaning, while the latter ignores the systematic differences in function that correlate with tonal differences. Instead, I propose that lah is a modal particle that conveys the not-at-issue comment that the lah-marked proposition is entailed by the conjunction of all factors that make a difference to its truth, which is then interpreted by the addressee as justification for the speaker’s lah-marked assertion. In other words, if we consider all the factors that affect the likelihood of the lah-marked proposition p being true to be the set of evidence that together underwrite the speaker’s assertion of p, then lah indicates that this set of evidence is completely reliable in predicting p. However, unlike previous unitary analyses, I propose that this single particle meaning then interacts with a separate effect of intonation to produce the different pragmatic functions that have been observed in the literature.

LingLang Lunch (4/8/2015): Magdalena Kaufmann (University of Connecticut)

Free choice as a form of dependence

Disjunctive imperatives like “Post the letter or burn it” are generally thought to invariably grant the addressee the choice between the actions named in the individual disjuncts (leading to Ross’s paradox). I argue that this is incorrect. Building on a propositional analysis of imperatives (Kaufmann 2012) and a compositional analysis of “depending on” I argue that all disjunctions denote sets of propositional alternatives that correlate with distinctions the speaker may or may not be able to indicate explicitly. Free choice arises as the specific case when the partition is induced by the preferences of the addressee. I discuss some ideas of why this is particularly natural for imperatives and performative modals. Moreover, I argue that the analysis of “depending on” shows that the individual disjuncts have to be accessible to the computation. This comes for free in a Hamblin-style analysis or in Inquisitive Semantics, but requires very specific assumptions in a Fox-style setting of locally exhaustified classical disjunctions (e.g. Fox).

LingLang Lunch (4/22/2015): Ryan Bennett (Yale University)

An ultrasound study of Irish palatalization

A core feature of the phonology of Irish is the distinction between palatalized /Cʲ/ (‘slender’) and velarized /Cˠ/ (‘broad’) consonants. Nearly every consonant in the language has both a palatalized and a velarized variant: this difference is phonemically contrastive (e.g. bád/bˠa:dˠ/ ‘boat (sg.)’ vs. báid /bˠa:dʲ/ ‘boat (pl.)’) and plays a major role in both morphological and phonological patterning. While the phonology of the /Cʲ/~/Cˠ/ distinction is fairly well-understood, the phonetics of this contrast—particularly the articulatory phonetics—remain somewhat obscure.

In this talk I present results from the first ultrasound study of Irish consonant production. This study is motivated by several outstanding questions in the study of the Irish consonant system. To what extent do the phonemic labels “palatalized” and “velarized” correspond to phonetic truths about the position of the tongue body during the production of these consonants? What factors condition contextual variation in the production of these consonant types? And what can Irish tell us about the relationship between phonological contrast and articulatory patterning?

Colloquium (4/29/2015): Gregory Hickok (University of California, Irvine)

An Integrative Approach to Understanding the Neuroscience of Language

Language serves a specialized purpose: to translate thoughts to sound (or sign) and back again. The complexity and relative uniqueness of linguistic knowledge reflects this specialization. But language evolved in the context of a brain that was already performing functions that are broadly important for language: perceiving, acting, remembering, learning. From an evolutionary standpoint, then, we should expect to find some architectural and computational parallels between linguistic and non-linguistic neural systems. Our work has indeed uncovered such parallels. Language processes are organized into two broad neural streams—a ventral auditory-conceptual stream and a dorsal auditory-motor stream—functionally analogous to that found in vision. And the dorsal auditory-motor language stream uses computational principles found in motor-control more broadly. This approach to understanding the neural basis of language does not replace traditional linguistic constructs but integrates them into a broader neuro-evolutionary context and provides a richer, comparative source of data.

LingLang Lunch (4/30/2015): Eladio Mateo Toledo (B’alam) (CIESAS-Sureste, México)

The Destinative Construction in Q’anjob’al (Maya)

Purpose constructions involve two situations linked by a purposive relation where a situation, expressed by the matrix predicate, is performed with the intention/goal of obtaining the realization of another situation, the purpose clause (Cristofaro 2005:506, Schmidtke-Bode 2009:20, Verstraete 2008:764). Therefore, they involve intentionality on the part of an argument of the main clause; the purpose clause is intrinsically future oriented; and the outcome is intended or hypothetical. These features are illustrated in (1) (based on Simonin 2011:2).

(1) A monkey picked leaves or fruit in order to eat them, but it never ate them,
     though that was certainly its intention.

Q’anjob’al has two purpose constructions: motion-cum purpose and a finite purpose clause. In this talk, I present a related construction that I call the destinative construction (2).

(2) a. Max-ach             y-i-teq                     ix         s-q’ume-j
          com-abs2sg       erg3-bring-dir       clf       erg3-talk-tv
          ‘She brought you to talk to you.’
      b. Ay-ach             ek’        j-ante-j
          exs-abs2sg       dir       erg1pl-cure-tv
          ‘You are here for us to cure.’

Analyzing this construction as a purpose clause is problematic because intentionality is not necessary, as in (2b). Furthermore, person inflection is rigidly transitive or intransitive in Q’anjob’al but this construction violates it as the second verb, otherwise transitive, lacks a second person argument. However, this inflectional pattern also occurs in complex predicates like the ditransitive one in 3).

(3)  Ch-ach             ul             hin-say                   w-il-a’
      inc-abs2sg       come       erg1s-look.for       erg1s-see-tv
      ‘I come to look for you (for myself).’ {txt062}

I have three goals in this talk. Following Simonin’s (2011) work on English and that of Polian (2015) on Maya, I firstly show that (2) is a destinative construction and not a purpose clause (‘the construction denotes a situation where the matrix verb makes available an entity that is earmarked for a particular use, specified by the second verb’). Second, I show that the Q’anjob’al destinative and the English weak purpose clause, with different syntax, are licensed by the same types of predicates. I finally show that the Q’anjob’al destinative clause has features of both complex clauses and complex predicates; this makes it unique in Q’anjob’al and Maya.