LingLang Lunch (4/29/2016): Florian Jaeger (University of Rochester)

From processing to language change and cross-linguistic distributions

I’ll present recent attempts to contribute to a wee little question in linguistics: the role of ‘language use’ in language change and, as a consequence, the cross-linguistic distribution of linguistic properties. Specifically, I focus on the extent to which communicate and processing biases shape language. I hope to demonstrate how advances in computational psycholinguistics can contribute to this question: advances in our empirical and theoretical understanding of the biases operating during language production/understanding allows more predictive and principled notions of language use; advances in the empirical methods allow us to more directly test hypotheses about not only whether, but also how these biases come to shape aspects of grammar.

I’ll present a medley of case studies on this question, which hopefully will make for some interesting discussion. I’ll begin with a computational study on the syntax of five languages: do the grammars of these languages order information in such a way that makes the language easier to process than expected by chance (Gildea & Jaeger, 2015)? I then present work on miniature artificial language learning to show that the biases we observe in the first study operate during language acquisition, and that they are strong enough to bias learners to deviate from the input language towards languages that are easier to process and encode information more efficiently (Fedzechkina, Jaeger, & Newport, 2012; Fedzechkina, Newport, & Jaeger, 2016; Fedzechkina & Jaeger, under review). Time permitting, I’ll also show how related biases might cause change within a speaker’s production through that speaker’s life time (suggesting a second path through which language processing can affect language change, Buz, Tanenhaus, & Jaeger, 2016). Alternatively, I can show how adaptive processes during language understanding continuously reshape our linguistic representations throughout our life (Fine, Jaeger, Farmer & Qian, 2013; Kleinschmidt & Jaeger, 2015), including the acquisition of new (e.g., dialectal) syntax (Fraundorf & Jaeger, under review). Come prepared to vote (and to be over voted).