Category Archives: Papers

Ren, Cohen Priva, and Morgan in Cognition

Our recent PhD graduate Jie Ren just published a paper in Cognition with Uriel Cohen Priva and Jim Morgan. They argue that the argument that the lexicon is underspecified is not robust enough to show in the task types they were using: Speakers were as willing to accept /t/ for /k/ as /k/ for /t/.

Cohen Priva and Sanker paper at LabPhon

Uriel Cohen Priva and Chelsea Sanker have just had their paper published in LabPhon. They show that the using difference-in-difference to measure convergence, though convenient and frequently used, should ultimately be avoided in most situations: Speakers whose performance is close to the mean of the distribution or to their interlocutors are likely to be seen as divergent, and speakers whose performance is far from the mean are likely to appear as convergent. Both effects can lead to finding false evidence for individual differences in convergence.


Collaborative JIPA paper appears!

In a paper originating in CLPS 1390 in Spring 2017, Scott AnderBois and Chelsea Sanker together with then-students Hugo Lucitante ’19, Chiara Repetti-Ludlow ’18, and Haoru Zhang MA ’18 published the first instrumental phonetic description of A’ingae (Cofán), an indigenous language of Amazonia, as part of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association‘s “Illustrations of the IPA”:

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.

Sanker publishes in Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

Chelsea Sanker has just published in Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics

This paper presents a set of auditory perception experiments testing the effects of lexical ambiguity, lemma frequency, and acoustic details. In an AX discrimination task with stimuli produced in isolation, lexically ambiguous phonologically matching forms (e.g., sun-sun, sun-son) were evaluated more slowly and identified as ‘different’ more often than lexically unambiguous forms (e.g., cat-cat). For stimuli extracted from meaningful sentences, pairs of homophone mates (sun-son) were evaluated more slowly than same pairs of such words (sun-sun), following from the greater acoustic distance between homophone mates in several measures. The individual lexical frequency of homophone mates was a significant factor in both identification tasks, though frequency effects in the AX tasks were weaker and driven by the lexically unambiguous items. In both studies, greater acoustic distance between items was a predictor of longer response times, though the significance of particular acoustic measures varied. Identification of homophone mates also depended on context of production; listeners were above chance accuracy for choosing between homophone mates extracted from sentences, but not for homophone mates produced in isolation. While results for stimuli produced in sentential contexts indicate that listeners are sensitive to acoustic details and can weakly associate production patterns with lexical items, the absence of such differences for homophone mates produced in isolation suggests that these details are not an inherent part of the representation.

NSF Grant to Cohen Priva

Uriel Cohen Priva has been awarded a grant from NSF. Read about it here.

Human language use reflects the nature of human communication. For instance, frequent words tend to have fewer sounds than infrequent ones, which facilitates quick production and understanding. However, little is known about more fine-grained distinctions. For instance, English has more /k/ than /p/ sounds. Does that reflect a property of human language and its physiological and perceptual nature or a historical accident? Answering such questions requires comparative data on the frequency and phonological makeup of words in many languages. This project will build on existing textual sources and word frequency lists to provide the phonological makeup of words in close to 200 low-resource languages. The phonological word lists will provide an invaluable resource to the understanding of human language and provide much-needed linguistic resources to low-resource languages. The outputs of the project will be made public and easily accessible, thereby assisting in documenting and teaching the processed languages, and in building computational linguistic resources such as text-to-speech engines.

The research team, including trained undergraduate and graduate students, will create rules to translate alphabets to phonemic representation for multiple languages. The team will then collect textual resources and word frequency lists from publicly available sources such as online Bibles, newspapers, and movie subtitles. The rules will be applied separately to each source and the resulting phonological representations will be made publicly available, such that not only researchers but also the general public will be able to use and interact with the data. The researchers will proceed to use the data to investigate whether the information theoretic properties of sounds have distributional universality: do sounds tend to provide similar amounts of information cross-linguistically, and if so, does their information content correlate with their phonetic properties? Universality is an age-old question, and the similarities and differences of properties across language can provide new insights into language use. Specifically, the researchers will use information theoretic properties to predict whether low information or other previously studied phonological properties are likely to promote consonant weakening in those languages.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.


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