Monthly Archive for February, 2015

McGill at GALANA 2015

McGill linguists, psychologists and speech-language pathologists traveled to University of Maryland to present at the 6th bi-annual Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition – North America (GALANA), held on February 19-21. Presenters included:

  • Misha Schwartz (McGill) & Heather Goad (McGill): Indirect Positive Evidence in the Acquisition of a Subset Grammar in Phonology
  • Erica Yoon (Stanford), Heather Goad (McGill), Jennifer McManus (McGill), Elisa Bucurel (McGill) & Kristine Onishi (McGill): Use of allophonic cues to detect word-medial syllable boundaries
  • Tokiko Okuma: L1 transfer in bound variable use of L2 Japanese demonstrative pronouns

Full program may be found here.

Sasha Simonenko in Journal of Semantics

Recent PhD graduate Sasha Simonenko, currently a Postdoc at LaTTiCe (CNRS, ENS, Paris 3), just learned that her manuscript “Semantics of DP islands: The case of questions” has been accepted for publication in Journal of Semantics. Congratulations Sasha!

Colloquium, 2/20 – T. Florian Jaeger

This week we welcome the next speaker in our 2015 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series:
Speaker: T. Florian Jaeger (University of Rochester)
Date & Time: Friday, February 20, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: “The doubly-hierarchical structure of linguistic knowledge”

It is now broadly recognized that language understanding and production are probabilistic. For example, multiple instances of the same sound produced in the same context by the same speaker form a distribution over acoustic dimensions, rather than a single point. I discuss data from speech perception and language processing that suggests that the ideas of gradience and inference over noisy input, while an important step forward, do not go far enough in characterizing the cognitive architecture underlying language.

Much of the noise and variability in linguistic behavior is structured: part of the differences in speakers’ gradient preferences are systematically conditioned on social indexical variables (e.g., gender, age, dialects and accents). This structure variability contributes to what is known as the infamous ‘lack of invariance’ problem in speech perception.

Listeners overcome the lack of invariance by learning to represent environment-specific linguistics statistics (e.g., talker-specific pronunciation, lexical, and syntactic preferences). Specifically, I propose that comprehenders recognize previously encountered language environments (such as a familiar speaker) and adapt to the statistics of novel environments while generalizing based on similar previous experiences. In this view, grammatical knowledge is conditioned on hierarchically organized indexical structure that captures speaker-specificity as well as generalizations across groups of speakers (sociolects, dialects, etc.). These representations can be thought of as allowing the efficient parameterizations (in the stochastic sense) of grammars for different language environments.

For this talk I will first briefly summarize evidence from speech perception (Kleinschmidt and Jaeger, in press). Then I will focus on sentence processing to demonstrate rapid expectation adaptation during language understanding (Fine et al., 2010, 2013; Farmer et al., 2014). Finally, I’ll present evidence from implicit motor learning that we can indeed learn the indexical structure underlying varying statistics in our environment (Qian et al, submitted).

[This work is based on collaborations with Richard Aslin, Thomas Farmer, Alex Fine, Robbie Jacobs, Dave Kleinschmidt, and Ting Qian, and funded by an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, NSF CAREER IIS-1150028, and NIH R01 HD075797]

Selected relevant readings from the Human Language Processing Lab

  1. Kleinschmidt, D. and Jaeger, T. F. in press. Robust Speech Perception: Recognizing the familiar, Generalizing to the similar, and adapting to the novel. [pdf]
  2. Fine, A. B., Jaeger, T. F., Farmer, T., and Qian, T. 2013. Rapid expectation adaptation during syntactic comprehension. PLoS ONE 8(10), e77661. [pdf]
  3. Fine, A. B. and Jaeger, T. F. 2013. Evidence for implicit learning in syntactic comprehension. Cognitive Science 37(3), 578–591. [doi: 10.1111/cogs.12022]. [pdf]
  4. Jaeger, T. F. and Snider, N. 2013. Alignment as a consequence of expectation adaptation: syntactic priming is affected by the prime’s prediction error given both prior and recent experience. Cognition 127(1), 57–83. [doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.10.013]. [pdf]
  5. Qian, T., Jaeger, T. F., and Aslin, R. under revision. Implicit Learning of Bundles of Statistical Patterns in an Incremental Task.
  6. Qian, T., Jaeger, T. F., and Aslin, R. 2012. Learning to Represent a Multi-Context Environment: More than Detecting Changes. Frontiers in Psychology 3, 228. [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00228]. [pdf]

Tokiko Okuma to GALANA 2015

Tokiko Okuma heads to the University of Maryland this week to present a poster/alternate talk at the 6th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2015) on February 19-21.

She has been awarded a GALANA travel grant. The title of her work is ‘L1 transfer in bound variable use of L2 Japanese demonstrative pronouns’. The full program can be found here.

Open House, 2/19–20

We’re having an open house for admitted graduate students on Feb. 19-20. Admitted graduate students will attend classes, a reading group meeting, a lab tour, and a campus tour; have individual meetings with faculty members; learn about our current graduate students’ research, listen to Florian Jaeger’s colloquium talk and enjoy a party afterwards; and also socialize with our current graduate students, etc. etc. You can find more details on the final schedule that will be sent out by email shortly. Meanwhile, if you see any new faces wandering the halls, please say hello!

Lauren Clemens to Stony Brook

Post-doctoral fellow Lauren Clemens heads to Stony Brook University this week for a colloquium talk. The title of her talk is “The possibilities and limitations of using prosodic phrasing to diagnose different V1 derivations”, and the abstract is below.

Abstract: This talk explores the possibilities and limitations for using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure in the context of two verb-initial (V1) languages – Chol (Mayan) and Niuean (Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic) – that display similar patterns of word order variation (Coon 2010; Massam 2001). To date, no consensus has emerged among syntacticians about how to derive V1 order, but three approaches have received particularly widespread support: 1) right-branching specifier, 2) head movement and 3) VP-fronting. These three syntactic analyses make different predictions for prosodic structure, which can be cached out in Match Theory (Selkirk 2011). Match Theory posits violable constraints calling for isomorphism between syntactic and prosodic constituents. Here, I argue that the right-branching specifier account should be rejected in favor of a movement account based on the prosodic realization of different V1 structures in these languages. However, prosodic arguments alone cannot reliably distinguish between the two movement accounts under consideration (head movement and VP-fronting). Instead, I show how prosodic arguments can be used in conjunction with syntactic arguments to solve problems of syntactic structure and constituency, suggesting that V1 order is derived via head movement for both languages.

Colloquium, 2/9 – Francisco Torreira

We are pleased to announce the next talk in our 2014-15 colloquium series:

Speaker: Francisco Torreira (Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics)
When: Monday, February 9 at 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building, room 627

Title: Unraveling the time course of language production in conversational interaction

In conversation, turn transitions between speakers often occur smoothly, most typically within a time window of 100 to 300 milliseconds. Since speech planning usually takes over half a second (ca. 600 ms for picture naming, Indefrey & Levelt, 2004; ca. 1500 ms for simple sentences, Griffin & Bock, 2000), it appears that participants in conversation often plan their utterances in overlap with their interlocutor’s turns. It is not clear, however, how they manage to launch their own turns in a timely manner (i.e., without excessive overlaps or long silent gaps). On the basis of psycholinguistic experiments (e.g., De Ruiter, Mitterer & Enfield, 2006), and against a long tradition of observational studies, it has been argued that participants in conversation rely mainly on anticipating morphosyntactic structure when timing and producing their turns, and that they do not need to make use of prosodic information in order to achieve smooth floor transitions. In this talk, I will present a series of new psycholinguistic, phonetic, and corpus studies challenging this view, and sketch an efficient turn-taking mechanism of language production involving two separate processes: a) early planning of content, based among other things on morphosyntactic prediction, and often carried out in overlap with the incoming turn, and b) late launching of articulation, mainly based on the identification of turn-final prosodic cues (e.g., phrase-final melodic patterns, final lengthening, sharp intensity drops).

Luis Alonso-Ovalle at Cornell

Luis Alonso-Ovalle has just returned from a trip to Cornell University where he gave a colloquium talk at the Department of Linguistics. The title of his talk was: “Modality in the Nominal Domain: Random Choice and Modal Harmony”

mitcho Erlewine to Minnesota

Postdoc mitcho Erlewine heads to the University of Minnesota this week to give a colloquium talk title, “Focus adverbs at the vP and higher edges”.

Jessica Coon at BLS 41

Jessica Coon is just returning from Berkeley where she was a plenary speaker at the 41st Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Here talk was titled “Agreement, Alignment, and Templatic Morphology in Mayan”.

Colloquium, 2/6 – Jessamyn Schertz

We are pleased to announce the next talk in our 2014-15 colloquium series:

Speaker: Jessamyn Schertz (University of Toronto)
When: Friday, Feb 6, 3:30
Place: Education Building, room 433

Title: Learning different things from the same input: How initial category structure shapes phonetic adaptation

Listeners are confronted with a large amount of redundancy in the language input. On the level of phonetic categories, sound contrasts often covary systematically on multiple dimensions, providing listeners with options of what to pay attention to (and what to ignore), in principle allowing for different individual “grammars.” In this talk, I present a series of experiments demonstrating the different choices made by native Korean listeners when categorizing the (L2) English stop voicing contrast. Korean speakers used both pitch and VOT to distinguish the contrast, showing relatively homogenous use of the two cues in production. However, perceptual patterns varied widely, with some listeners using pitch as a primary cue, some using VOT, and some using a combination of the two. These different choices were stable across sessions and determined how listeners modified their phonetic categories when confronted with a novel accent.  The fact that individual differences in phonetic structure predict categorically different adaptation patterns highlights the importance of integrating initial listener biases into models of distributional learning and phonetic adaptation.


Reminder: Mitterer colloquium – 1/19

A reminder that Holger Mitterer’s colloquium is Feb 2 at 3:30 in Educ 627, as previously described here.

Guilherme Garcia receives CRBLM grant

IMG_5841Guilherme Garcia was recently awarded a CRBLM travel grant. Gui used the grant for his trip to the 12th Old World Conference in Phonology (OCP), where he presented joint work with  Natália Brambatti Guzzo: ‘The prosodization of neoclassical elements in Brazilian Portuguese: Evidence from vowel reduction’. OCP is an annual conference and this year it was in Barcelona (at UAB and Universidad de Barcelona).


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