The conference will be held at the International House (1414 E. 59th St.) on Friday, and at Ida Noyes Hall (1212 E. 59th St.) on Saturday and Sunday.
PUB MIXER ATTENDEES: The pub is located in the Ida Noyes basement. For guests from other institutions, you need to be accompanied by a UChicago student at the entrance. If you are a guest: first, go down the stairs, and then find a UChicago linguist to pull you in. Entry for guests is $3 (cash only). There are food and drinks for purchase inside. We have some limited funding and will purchase drinks and sharable finger food for the table to our best extent.
BANQUET ATTENDEES: Held at the Ida Noyes Cloister Club (1st floor of Ida Noyes Hall).
ASL Interpretation: We have ASL interpreters for the entirety of Friday.
Kathryn Davidson is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Harvard University, where her research addresses questions in semantics and pragmatics using experimental methods and fieldwork. Her work in these areas draws especially on insights from the variety of modalities of human language (signed, spoken, etc.) and from language acquisition and its relation to cognitive development.
Title: Semiotic distinctions in compositional semantics
Although language is often taken to be a paradigmatic case of the use of arbitrary symbols to communicate ideas, it is also clear that linguistic utterances across all modalities frequently incorporate elements of iconic depiction. How exactly symbolic and iconic aspects of language interact has been an area of active research on spoken and signed languages and gesture studies within linguistics and across the cognitive sciences. However, questions related to iconicity are less commonly studied from the perspective of compositionality: words like red and ball can combine to describe a red ball, but how do meanings from iconic forms compose with non-iconic elements in language? This paper builds upon the semiotic distinction between depiction and description to argue against accounts that treat depiction as contributing toward propositional meaning, and in favor of two separate systems for representing meaning in language, one that involves a non-symbolic representation of a particular, and another symbolic/propositional representation, defined via ability to contrast propositional alternatives in order to eliminate possibilities, with an eye toward explaining the pervasiveness of both depiction and description as means of conveying meaning in language.
Monica Do is a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Linguistics at the University of Chicago. Her research on language production focuses on how we decide what it is we want to talk about and how we turn our conceptual representations of the world into a linguistic form that is suitable for the language we speak. To do this, her work brings together topics in event cognition, pragmatics, and theoretical linguistics. Dr. Do studies these processes in language production using visual world eye-tracking and other behavioral techniques in different languages.
Title: From thematic to syntactic structures: A View from Psych Verbs
In order to produce a sentence, speakers first have to create a conceptual representation of the world around them; then, they have to turn that conceptual representation into an appropriate linguistic representation. In this talk, I show how asymmetries in the way that people represent events (e.g., asymmetries in the Thematic Hierarchy, Grimshaw, 1980; Jackendoff 1987) can affect these two processes in language production – focusing in particular on the latter, known as sentence formulation. Using evidence from the real-time production of two types of Psych Verb sentences, SubjExp sentences such as ‘Leslie loves Ann.’ and ObjExp verbs such as ‘Leslie scares Ann.’, I show that language production is easier – that is, speakers are faster to begin speaking and eye-movements show they are faster to select an entity to serve as the subject of the sentence – when they are able to directly map the most thematically prominent element in the structure of the event onto the grammatical role of the subject. By incorporating these relatively understudied structures into studies in language production, I provide additional evidence for a very close, though not necessarily perfect, relationship between the conceptual structures that we use to represent events and the linguistic structures that we use to talk about them. I discuss the implications of this work for theories in linguistics and language production, highlighting the ways in which psycholinguistic studies of language production can simultaneously inform and be informed by theoretical issues in linguistics.
Roger Levy is a Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research focuses on theoretical and applied questions in the processing and acquisition of natural language. Dr. Levy answers these questions by combining computational modeling, psycholinguistic experimentation, and analysis of large naturalistic language datasets.
Title: The acquisition and processing of grammatical structure: insights from deep learning
Psycholinguistics and computational linguistics are the two fields most dedicated to accounting for the computational operations required to understand natural language. Today, both fields find themselves responsible for understanding the behaviors and inductive biases of “black-box” systems: the human mind and artificial neural-network language models (NLMs), respectively. Contemporary NLMs can be trained on a human lifetime’s worth of text or more, and generate text of apparently remarkable grammaticality and fluency. Here, we use NLMs to address questions of learnability and processing of natural language syntax. By testing NLMs trained on naturalistic corpora as if they were subjects in a psycholinguistics experiment, we show that they exhibit a range of subtle behaviors, including embedding-depth tracking and garden-pathing over long stretches of text, suggesting representations homologous to incremental syntactic state in human language processing. Strikingly, these NLMs also learn many generalizations about the long-distance filler-gap dependencies that are a hallmark of natural language syntax, perhaps most surprisingly many “island” constraints. I conclude with comments on the long-standing idea of whether the departures of NLMs from the predictions of the “competence” grammars developed in generative linguistics might provide a “performance” account of human language processing: by and large, they don’t.
Emily Gasser is a Professor of Linguistics at Swarthmore College. Her research is in Austronesian and Australian languages, Wallacea & northwest New Guinea, language documentation and fieldwork, generative phonology, language contact and change, language endangerment, computational phylogenetics, Wamesa, and intonational socio-phonetics.
Title: VRK Mutation in Papua: Phonological Variation Across Time and Space
The South Halmahera-West New Guinea branch of Austronesian comprises roughly 45 languages on Halmahera Island and northwest New Guinea in eastern Indonesia. About 25 of these languages take part in a phonological process I call VRK mutation, in which the phonemes /β, r, k/ behave differently from other sounds when they appear in consonant clusters. A relatively straightforward instantiation of this pattern comes from Wamesa [wad], my primary fieldwork language. Wamesa only allows clusters of a nasal followed by a homorganic voiced stop: [mb], [nd], [ŋg]. When an illicit cluster is formed over a morpheme boundary, as in (1), the cluster is simplified by deleting the first member.
(1) a. /sur-pera/ →[supera] ‘they (dual) cut’
b. /mur-marawas/ →[mumarawas] ‘you (dual) are beautiful’
c. /tat-sa/ →[tasa] ‘we (pl.incl) climb’
However, when the second consonant is a voiced stop /b, d/ or one of /β, r, k/, the cluster instead surfaces as a homorganic ND cluster at the place of articulation of the second member, as in (2).
(2) a. /sur-βo/ →[sumbo] ‘they (dual) paddle’
b. /mur-rora/ →[mundora] ‘you (dual) hit’
c. /tat-kaβio/ →[taŋgaβio] ‘we (pl.incl) speak’
d. /set-baba/ →[sembaba] ‘they (pl.human) are large’
If VRK mutation is taken to be a single rule, which I argue that it should be, it is unusual for two reasons: The set of phonemes to which it applies is not a natural class, and it has phonetically unmotivated results, as in the /rr/ →[nd] change in (2b). Of the languages which have VRK mutation, it is realized slightly differently in each: In some languages it only occurs when the first consonant in the cluster is a nasal, while in others, like Wamesa, any C1 can trigger it; some languages are restrictive in their allowable clusters, while others, like Biak, are highly permissive except where in VRK environments; in some languages /k/ takes part variably or not at all; some languages have added other consonants, mostly /w/, /ɸ, or /ɣ/, to the mutating set.
Based on ongoing fieldwork and published data, this talk explores VRK mutation from a number of angles. How did it arise initially? What can the range of instantiations, and the changes that led to them, tell us about the structure and history of SHWNG? And what can an artificial language learning experiment tell us about how the pattern is acquired by language learners, and how it might change in the future?
Lal Zimman is a Professor of Sociolinguistics and Linguistic Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research focuses on ethnographic, discourse analytic, and sociophonetic methods of examining the relationship of language to identity and gender, particularly for LGBTQ speakers.
James Kirby is a Professor in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences of University of Edinburgh. His research interests are sound change, computational and statistical methods in phonetics, tone and register, language and music, and languages of Southeast Asia. His latest research includes Incorporating tone in the calculation of phonotactic probability, Individuals, communities, and sound change: an introduction, and Relating production and perception of L2 tone.
Programs and abstracts for all years can be found on the past conferences page of the website.
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