Masoud Jasbi is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Linguistics at Harvard University. His research addresses how abstract functional meanings emerge and develop in the child’s mind, and how much do languages vary in the ways they encode functional meaning. For more information, his website is here.
The Puzzle of Learning Disjunction
To understand language, we rely on mental representations of what words mean. What constitutes these representations and how are they learned? To address this question, I discuss the puzzle of learning the disjunction word “or”. I present experimental studies that show preschool children (3-5 years old) can interpret “or” as inclusive disjunction. I also present the results of a corpus annotation study that shows the exclusive interpretation is much more common in child-directed speech. These two findings confirm a puzzle in the current literature: How can children learn the inclusive interpretation of “or” if they rarely hear it? My proposal is that exclusive interpretations in child-directed speech correlate with interpretive cues such as intonation and the semantic consistency of the disjuncts. Applying a supervised machine learning technique, I check the reliability of these cues and demonstrate that an ideal learner can use them to learn both inclusive and exclusive interpretations of disjunction from child-directed speech. Together, these studies provide evidence for a more sophisticated word learning mechanism as well as richer and more context-dependent representations of functional meaning than previously assumed.
Casey Lew-Williams is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and director of Baby Lab at Princeton University. He and his lab study domain-general learning mechanisms and specific features of learning environments in order to understand the beginnings of human cognition and their consequences on children’s outcomes. For more information, his website is here.
Infants learn from meaningful structure in their communicative environments
During natural communication, caregivers pitch statistics at infants, and infants figure out what to pay attention to across milliseconds and months. In doing so, they make progress in detecting and then running with meaningful, naturally variable structure in their environments. I will present a few recent studies examining how caregivers package language to infants, how infants process patterns in the complexities of their input, and how infant-adult dyads align their brains and behaviors during natural play. I will also present preliminary analyses suggesting that such alignment is relevant to children’s learning of new information. The data collectively suggest that fine-grained, predictable statistics embedded in everyday communication are key to understanding the dynamic and consequential nature of early learning.
Maksymilian Dąbkowski is a senior student concentrating Linguistics at Brown Universty. This is a practice talk for West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics 36.
The morphophonology of A’ingae verbal stress
Stress assignment in A’ingae (or Cofán, isolate, ISO 639: con) is remarkably complex. In the first investigation into the nature of this complexity, I report on the existence of six distinct accentual patterns associated with verbal morphemes, propose that stress assignment is determined by a combination of phonological and morphological factors, and develop a formal analysis of the data.
I analyze A’ingae stress assignment as determined by factors from two domains: (i) phonological, where I propose a typologically unattested glottal accent assigned at the level of the prosodic foot, and (ii) morphological, with accentual specification of suffixal lexemes. By attributing a part of the observed complexity to independently motivated glottal accent, I reduce the number of distinct lexical specifications needed to explain the six distinct accentual patterns to four suffix types. I further analyze the four different suffix types as an interaction between two binary parameters that characterize each suffix: recessive vs. dominant; and plain vs. prestressing.
The analysis is carried out in the framework of Cophonology Theory, a restrictive Optimality Theoretic approach, which allows for a parsimonious account of complex patterns emergent from interactions between phonology and morphology.