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.

A new paper by Hemmatian, Sloman, Cohen Priva, and Sloman

Babak Hemmatian and colleagues just published his paper Think of the consequences: A decade of discourse about same-sex marriage at Behavior Research Methods. The paper studies the change of discourse regarding same sex marriage changed over the course of 10 years using topic models and a large corpus of Reddit posts.

Approaching issues through the lens of nonnegotiable values increases the perceived intractability of debate (Baron & Spranca in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 70, 1–16, 1997), while focusing on the concrete consequences of policies instead results in the moderation of extreme opinions (Fernbach, Rogers, Fox, & Sloman in Psychological Science, 24, 939–946, 2013) and a greater likelihood of conflict resolution (Baron & Leshner in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 6, 183–194, 2000). Using comments on the popular social media platform Reddit from January 2006 until September 2017, we showed how changes in the framing of same-sex marriage in public discourse relate to changes in public opinion. We used a topic model to show that the contributions of certain protected-values-based topics to the debate (religious arguments and freedom of opinion) increased prior to the emergence of a public consensus in support of same-sex marriage (Gallup, 2017), and declined afterward. In contrast, the discussion of certain consequentialist topics (the impact of politicians’ stance and same-sex marriage as a matter of policy) showed the opposite pattern. Our results reinforce the meaningfulness of protected values and consequentialism as relevant dimensions for describing public discourse and highlight the usefulness of unsupervised machine-learning methods in tackling questions about social attitude change.