Category Archives: People

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.


NSF grant to AnderBois

It was formally announced that Scott AnderBois and past LingLangLunch presenter Wilson Silva (University of Arizona) have received an NSF Documenting Endangered Languages grant for their research project Perspective taking and reported speech in an evidentially-rich language (official announcement here). The project continues the work of AnderBois and Silva’s team documenting A’ingae, an understudied linguistic isolate spoken in the Ecuadorian Amazon, collaborating with native speakers to collect and annotate audio/video materials. The grant aims specifically to investigate the grammar of reported speech in the language, including the language’s unique use of falsetto realized on a single syllable to signal perspective shifts in narrative.

AnderBois and Jacobson at SALT 29

SALT (Semantics and Linguistic Theory) 29 ( took place at UCLA May 17-19. Brown was amply represented with Polly Jacobson delivering the closing keynote of the conference, “Why we still don’t need/want variables: Two SALTy case studies”, and Scott AnderBois presenting a poster titled “At-issueness in direct quotation: the case of Mayan quotatives”. In addition to current faculty, Brown alum Simon Charlow (’07 Linguistics AB) delivered one of the three other keynotes, “GIVENness and local contexts”.

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.

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!

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.