Monthly Archives: March 2019

LingLang Lunch (3/21/2019): Jason Shaw (Yale)

Jason Shaw is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and director of the Phonetics Laboratory at Yale University. His research investigates how the continuous dimensions of speech, including the kinematics of speech organs and the resulting acoustics, are structured by phonological form. For more information, his website is here.


Phonological control of time

Speech unfolds in time in ways that are language-specific and seem to be conditioned in part by phonological structure. However, language-specific timing patterns are generally still situated outside the scope of phonological theory. Articulatory Phonology (AP) is an exception in this regard. In AP, language-specific timing patterns are modelled in terms of coordination between articulatory gestures, primitive units of phonological contrast. The network of coordination relations between gestures drive articulatory movements in speech. In this talk, I’ll present two case studies that present apparent challenges to AP and show how the challenges can be resolved. The first case study presents Electromagnetic Articulography data tracking articulatory movements in Mandarin Chinese. The key finding is that the relative timing between consonants and vowels in Mandarin varies systematically with token-to-token variability in the spatial position of the tongue, a pattern which is not expected under feed-forward timing control, as in AP. The second case study is a field-based ultrasound study of lenition in Iwaidja, an Australian aboriginal language. In intervocalic position, velar approximants in Iwaidja variably delete. The challenge for AP is that temporal duration is partially preserved even as the velar consonant is completely lost. Developing a theoretical account of these patterns in AP reveals dimensions over which phonological systems shape language-specific variation in timing.

LingLang Lunch (3/15/2019): Suzi Lima (Toronto)

Suzi Lima is an Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Department and in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at the University of Toronto. Currently, she is interested in the semantics of reference and quantification in Brazilian Portuguese and in Brazilian indigenous languages. For more information, her website is here.


A typology of the count/mass distinction in Brazil and its relevance for count/mass theories.

Since Link’s (1983) seminal contribution, much work has explored the semantics of count and mass nouns from both theoretical and experimental perspectives. In this talk, I explore some of the recent advances in this field, drawing particularly from experimental research and descriptions of understudied Brazilian languages, more specially, Yudja (Juruna family, Tupi Stock). This talk has two main goals. First, I will explore the debate about what can be counted grammatically, that is, how we define atoms and what role extra-linguistic factors may play in this process, focusing on the distinction between natural and semantic atomicity (Rothstein 2010). More specifically, I will show that, in many languages, substance-denoting nouns – predicted to be uncountable in most count/mass theories (cf. Chierchia 1998, 2010) – can interact with the counting system, suggesting that the substance/object distinction might have an impact on what is more likely to be counted, but does not in itself restrict counting. I will also argue that the counting units that we use with object denoting nouns do not always correspond to ‘natural atoms’. Second, I will discuss the results of a large-scale project on the count/mass distinction in 17 Brazilian languages, and how the results of this project can contribute to typological research on this topic.

New Paper in Cognition from Feiman and colleagues

Read all about it!

Do children understand how different numbers are related before they associate them with specific cardinalities? We explored how children rely on two abstract relations – contrast and entailment – to reason about the meanings of ‘unknown’ number words. Previous studies argue that, because children give variable amounts when asked to give an unknown number, all unknown numbers begin with an existential meaning akin to some. In Experiment 1, we tested an alternative hypothesis, that because numbers belong to a scale of contrasting alternatives, children assign them a meaning distinct from some. In the “Don’t Give-a-Number task”, children were shown three kinds of fruit (apples, bananas, strawberries), and asked to not give either some or a number of one kind (e.g. Give everything, but not [some/five] bananas). While children tended to give zero bananas when asked to not give some, they gave positive amounts when asked to not give numbers. This suggests that contrast – plus knowledge of a number’s membership in a count list – enables children to differentiate the meanings of unknown number words from the meaning of some. Experiment 2 tested whether children’s interpretation of unknown numbers is further constrained by understanding numerical entailment relations – that if someone, e.g. has three, they thereby also have two, but if they do not have three, they also do not have four. On critical trials, children saw two characters with different quantities of fish, two apart (e.g. 2 vs. 4), and were asked about the number in-between – who either has or doesn’t have, e.g. three. Children picked the larger quantity for the affirmative, and the smaller for the negative prompts even when all the numbers were unknown, suggesting that they understood that, whatever three means, a larger quantity is more likely to contain that many, and a smaller quantity is more likely not to. We conclude by discussing how contrast and entailment could help children scaffold the exact meanings of unknown number words.