Category Archives: News

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.

Welcome Roman Feiman!!!!!!

The Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences (CLPS) is delighted to welcome our new psycholinguist Roman Feiman who joins us as of September, 2018 as an Assistant Professor.  Roman received his PhD in Psychology from Harvard University in 2015. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard for a year, and at UC San Diego for another two. His work draws on a variety of approaches and methods from cognitive developmental psychology, language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and formal semantics. Now at Brown, he directs the brand new Brown Language and Thought lab. You can find the lab here:

Over the next few years Roman will be teaching – among other things – courses on language processing (CLPS 1800), on child language acquisition of syntax, semantics and pragmatics (CLPS 1660), a seminar on Logic in Language and Thought, and co-teaching with Ellie Pavlich a course on Machine and Human Learning. Stay tuned for other courses.  Welcome Roman!

New paper published by Luchkina et al.: Eighteen‐month‐olds selectively generalize words from accurate speakers to novel contexts (Dev Sci 2018;e12663)

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

New paper published by Masapollo et al.: Articulatory peripherality modulates relative attention to the mouth during visual vowel discrimination (J Acoust Soc Am. 141(5): 4037)

Congratulations to Matt, Lauren, and Jim for a paper published recently in the Journal of the Acoustic Society of America! The title and abstract are as follows:

Articulatory peripherality modulates relative attention to the mouth during visual vowel discrimination.

Masapollo, Polka, and Ménard (2016) have recently reported that adults from different language backgrounds show robust directional asymmetries in unimodal visual-only vowel discrimination: a change in mouth-shape from one associated with a relatively less peripheral vowel to one associated with a relatively more peripheral vowel (in F1-F2 articulatory/acoustic vowel space) results in significantly better performance than a change in the reverse direction. In the present study, we used eye-tracking methodology to examine the gaze behavior of English-speaking subjects while they performed Masapollo et al.’s visual vowel discrimination task. We successfully replicated this directional effect using Masapollo et al.’s visual stimulus materials, and found that subjects deployed selective attention to the oral region compared to the ocular region of the model speaker’s face. In addition, gaze fixations to the mouth were found to increase while subjects viewed the more peripheral vocalic articulations compared to the less peripheral articulations, perhaps due to their larger, more extreme oral-facial kinematic patterns. This bias in subjects’ pattern of gaze behavior may contribute to asymmetries in visual vowel perception.

The full paper can be found here.

Talk (2/27/2018): Roey Gafter (Ben Gurion University)

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 12:00pm
Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center, Petteruti Lounge (Rm 201),
    75 Waterman Street, Providence RI

Roey Gafter from Ben Gurion University will give a talk on ethnicity and language in Israel among Hebrew speakers. This is a wide-audience talk, which will be followed by a more linguistic-y talk in LLL (separate notice and abstract will be sent that week). Details of his talk are as follows:

Ethnic identity in Israel and variation in Modern Hebrew: A linguist’s perspective

Among Israelis, Jewish ethnicity is often organized around a binary distinction between Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European descent) and Mizrahi Jews (Jews of Middle Eastern descent). In this talk, I explore how Hebrew is spoken by Israelis of different ethnicities, and show that framing ethnicity as an Ashkenazi-Mizrahi binary hides many meaningful distinctions, both linguistically and socially. I discuss the aspects of Hebrew accents most strongly associated with Mizrahi identity and show that their history and the social dynamic in Israel have imbued them with a rich social meaning that goes far beyond a simple ethnic marker. I then discuss Hebrew features that are not stereotypically associated with ethnicity and show how they can be used in the construction of specific ethnic personae.

More information about the speaker can be found here.

Lab Meeting (11/13/2017): Milena Rabovsky (Freie Universität Berlin)

For those who might be interested, Milena Rabovsky, a Postdoctoral Researcher (Marie Curie fellow) at the Neurocomputation and Neuroimaging Unit of Freie Universität Berlin (Germany), will present on work she conducted with McClelland at Stanford during Amitai Shenhav’s lab meeting. Details of her talk are as follows:

N400 amplitudes as change in a probabilistic representation of meaning: A neural network model

The N400 component of the event-related brain potential has aroused much interest because it is thought to provide an online measure of meaning processing in the brain. Yet, the underlying process of meaning construction remains incompletely understood. In the talk, I will present a computationally explicit account of this process and the emerging representation of sentence meaning. We simulate N400 amplitudes as the change induced by an incoming stimulus in an implicit and probabilistic representation of meaning captured by the hidden unit activation pattern in a neural network model of sentence comprehension, and propose that the process underlying the N400 also drives implicit learning in the network. We account for a broad range of empirically observed N400 effects which have previously been difficult to capture within a single integrated framework (Rabovsky, Hansen, & McClelland, bioRxiv).

More information about the speaker can be found here.

Guest Lecture (10/27/2017): Tore Nesset (Universitetet i Tromsø)

Friday, October 27, 2017 3:00pm
J.W. Wilson, Room 201, 75 Waterman Street, Providence RI

For those who might be interested, Tore Nesset from the University of Tromsø will be giving a guest lecture (during SLAV 1300 Sociolinguistics) titled Corpus Data and Socio-Linguistic Factors: Rival Forms in Russian. Tore’s research interests are in Slavics linguistics, especially Russian morphology and phonology, cognitive linguistics, and Optimality Theory. Together with next week’s LLL speaker Laura Janda, he is the leader of the CLEAR (cognitive linguistics: empirical approaches to Russian) research group. For more information, his website’s here.

Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (12/2/2017)

Saturday, December 2, 2017
MIT Stata Center, 32 Vassar Street, Cambridge, MA

This year, the Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS) will be held in MIT. As always, the workshop aims to be a friendly venue for graduate students in Linguistics to present their work in semantics and receive feedback, so ongoing research and stuff that you’re still figuring out are most welcome! The talks should be 20 min + 10 min for questions.

Those interested in presenting should contact the Brown liaison Junwen Lee by October 27th (Friday). The deadline for submitting presentation titles is November 17th.

Besides graduate students, post-docs, visitors at the participating schools, and faculty are also encouraged to attend and sit in for the presentations!

Short description of SNEWS:

The Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS) is an annual workshop for graduate students in Linguistics to present their research and receive feedback in an informal setting. Topics of presentation generally fall into any of the following categories (broadly defined): semantics, pragmatics, semantics/pragmatics interface, experimental and psycholinguistic investigations into semantic/pragmatic phenomena, etc. The workshop is meant to encourage the development and exchange of ideas through friendly interaction between students and faculty from different universities in the area. Universities that have participated in the past include Yale, UConn, UMass, MIT, Harvard, and Brown.

For more details about the event, please contact Junwen Lee, or refer to the event website here.