CARTA symposium featured in Science

The recent CARTA symposium on Domestication and Human Evolution co-hosted by Prof. Robert Kluender was featured in Science magazine:

You can access videos of all the symposium talks including Robert Kluender’s introduction at the CARTA website:

Leslie Lee’s Dissertation Defense: September 6, 2013. 1:00 P.M.

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce Leslie Lee’s dissertation defense on Friday, September 6, 2013, 1:00 pm- 3:00 pm in the Applied Physics and Mathematics Building room 4301.

Event structure and grammatical patterns: resultative constructions

In this talk, I present a pattern-theoretic approach to grammatical analysis that provides a happy compromise between mainstream generative approaches, typically criticised for focusing on broad cross-linguistic generalisations at the expense of complete descriptions of particular languages, and Construction Grammar approaches, which have been criticised for the complementary problem, i.e. focusing on the complete descriptions of particular languages at the expense of cross-linguistic generalisations. I develop a balance between these proposals by exploring three independent, but interdependent dimensions of resultative constructions: predication relations, argument realisation, and surface encoding. I argue for a pattern-theoretic analysis of resultatives in which patterns of predication relations are represented in terms of families of event structure templates, and propose to capture the regularities governing the alignment between semantic arguments of event structures and grammatical relations in the syntax by embedding event structures within a correspondence-based theory of argument realisation. Finally, I consider the crosslinguistic variation in the surface encoding of resultatives and provide a formal model of how the same event structure template can be realised by different surface encoding strategies in different languages.  Treating event structures as complex grammatical patterns provides an insightful way of characterising cross-linguistically recurrent, yet variant, construction types, such as resultative, and identifies a typological research programme with the potential to uncover implicational relations that hold within languages.

Laura McPherson (UCLA) – June 7th

The Linguistic Fieldwork Working Group will be hosting a talk by Laura McPherson (UCLA, Linguistics) on Friday, June 7 at 11am in the Field Lab (AP&M 2452).

This talk is part of Laura’s ongoing doctoral research on Tommo So (

Tone-tune association in Tommo So (Dogon) folk songs

This talk presents the preliminary results of a study on Tommo So folk music. Tommo So is a Dogon language, spoken in east central Mali by around 60,000 people. The language is tonal, with a two-way contrast between H and L tone, used at both the lexical and grammatical levels. Among the Dogon people, songs are traditionally sung in Tommo So, regardless of the native language of the singer.

In what little attention tone-tune interaction has received in the literature, findings have been mixed. Some musical traditions (e.g. Cantonese pop music) have clear tone-tune associations, while many African traditions are more ambiguous, with researchers arguing both sides. Based on recordings made with native Tommo So speakers, I demonstrate that the melody of folk music is in fact constrained by the lexical tone of the language, but that pitch mappings are not exact: mismatches in pitch movement (e.g. rising melody on a HL word or falling melody on a LH word) are rare, while level melodies can host monotone as well as multitone words. In contrast, grammatical tone, which takes the form of replacive overlays in the Dogon languages, is apparently ignored or not applied in tone-tune mapping. Should these preliminary results be confirmed by deeper study, it will be the first recorded case of such a division in African music, suggesting that singers draw only upon lexical representations when singing rather than considering the tonal patterns of words in context. In sum, this talk explores the possibility of using musical expression as evidence in linguistic analyses of tone.

You are what you speak (or sign)

UCSD Department of Linguistics

“You are what you speak (or sign): Effects of language learning on brain”

A talk by Dr. Robert Kluender

Professor of Linguistics at UCSD

Received wisdom about learning a language is often wrong: people think that children are better language learners than adults, that you’re fine learning a language before puberty but basically doomed afterwards, and that you can never acquire a native-sounding accent as an adult learner — even though none of these things is true.

While it is still true that the earlier you are exposed to a language, the better off you will be, we now also know that the adult brain is a lot more flexible (“plastic”) than we used to think it was. If you expose the brain to systematic input (e.g. language) on a regular basis (e.g. in a language class, on the internet, or reading on your own), your brain not only soaks it up, but literally incorporates this input into its own internal anatomical and physiological structure.

Consequently, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that your brain knows things about the language you are learning before you are even aware of it — you may not be able to say which answer is correct on a test, but your brain can, and does. Even more remarkably, your brain learns things about language that your teachers and instructional materials never even mention.

The moral of this story is that exposing yourself to as much language input as you can, in whatever form you can get it, is not only the best but actually the only way to help your brain help you learn a language. That means it’s imperative that you go to class (and not just because it’s required) and make liberal and consistent use of media (including reading) outside of class to get as much input as you can in the language you are learning.

TUESDAY MAY 14th, 2013 – 6:00-7:30 PM


Note: This talk is directed to students currently enrolled in language classes in the UCSD Linguistics Langauge Program. However, everyone is welcome to attend.

May 13 – Andrew Garrett

Please join the Linguistics Department on Monday, May 13th at 2 PM in AP&M 4301 for our colloquium. Andrew Garrett (UC Berkeley) will be presenting.

The chronology of Proto-Indo-European: New evidence from computational phylogenetics

This presentation reports on joint work with Will Chang, David Hall, and Chundra Cathcart.
Within Indo-European studies and historical linguistics more broadly, it remains controversial when and where Proto-Indo-European (PIE) was spoken. According to the hypothesis of Renfrew (1987, 1999, 2000, 2001), PIE was spoken in Anatolia and was spread broadly with the diffusion of agriculture. Since the chronology of farming dispersal is understood, on this hypothesis PIE was spoken in the 7th millennium BCE. An alternative hypothesis (Mallory 1989, Anthony 2007, Parpola 2008) is that PIE was spoken in the steppe north of the Black and Caspian Seas between about 4500 and 3500 BCE. According to this “steppe hypothesis”, language spread in Asia and Europe was associated with horse domestication, wheeled transport, and other cultural innovations. The two analyses of PIE origins thus differ in chronology by some 3000 years.
In the last decade this debate has been put on a new footing  with research by Gray & Atkinson (2003), Bouckaert et al. (2012), and other associated work by the same authors and their colleagues. In this line of research, computational methods from biological phylogenetics are applied to linguistic data (e.g. basic vocabulary lists) in order to infer phylogeny and chronology. The latter in particular does not rely on the glottochronological assumption of a constant rate of change, but assumes only that rates of change are distributed in a statistically tractable way. Without exception, and using a variety of tools, datasets, and statistical and model assumptions, work along these lines has pointed to the Anatolian chronology for PIE. Most Indo-Europeanists do not accept this chronology, so the results have been controversial and widely reported.
This paper reports on a computational analysis demonstrating that the data actually support the steppe hypothesis. Our approach has been to use methods similar to those of Gray & Atkinson, Bouckaert et al., etc., but to revise the data coding in way that is linguistically more plausible than in previous work. The relevant revisions will be discussed and supported in detail. When linguistically plausible assumptions are made, then it can be shown that a PIE chronology consistent with the steppe hypothesis is favored.

May 6 – Matt Wagers

Monday, May 6th at 2 PM in AP&M 4301. Matt Wagers (U.C. Santa Cruz) will be presenting.

Grammatical prediction in Chamorro: WH agreement and real-time dependency formation

 In this talk, I will discuss some recent sentence comprehension studies in Chamorro*, an Austronesian language of the Mariana Islands. Real-time studies of small languages, and languages outside of Europe and East Asia – like Chamorro – have played an essentially negligible role in psycholinguistics, for reasons practical but not scientific. In the case of Chamorro, the interaction of its rich agreement system, its flexible word order, and its principles for aligning syntactic and semantic roles make it a very attractive language for investigating core ideas in language processing. In two studies, we have leveraged these grammatical features to ask how comprehenders make predictions about upcoming linguistic material to interpret WH (filler-gap) dependencies.

Chamorro is of particular interest to the comprehension of filler-gap dependencies because it provides morphological cues to the gap site via its system of WH Agreement (Chung, 1982, 1998). In the first study, we examined the real-time comprehension of WH Agreement inflected extractions, drawing upon two experiments – self-paced listening and a variant of preferential looking. Based on the detection of semantic anomalies, we find that the presence of WH agreement morphology plays a strongly facilitative role in the interpretation of filler-gap dependencies. Based on patterns of reanalysis, we find that in the absence of (optional) WH agreement morphology, gaps may be projected but not synchronously interpreted. Additionally, as a side effect of our experimental design, we document an age-correlated decline in the availability of possessor extraction among Chamorro speakers.

The timecourse of comprehension in Chamorro highlights two important questions for psycholinguistic models: why might highly favored continuations sometimes be ignored? And what is the relationship between syntactic prediction and semantic interpretation? In the second part of the talk, I will discuss a second study on the person-animacy hierarchy which addresses these questions: in transitive clauses, and certain possessor extractions, only some combinations of subject and object (or possessor of object) are allowed, depending on person/animacy features. These constraints allows us to directly compare the influence of two sources of prediction in comprehension: (1) the space of possible continuations; and (2) the presence of unlicensed grammatical features.

*This project represents joint work with Sandra Chung (UC Santa Cruz) & Manuel F. Borja (Inetnon Åmot yan Kutturan Natibu, CNMI)

Apr 15 – Daphna Heller

Please join the us Monday, April 15, 2013 at 2 PM in AP&M 4301 for the Linguistics department’s colloquium. Daphna Heller (University of Toronto) will be presenting.

On the probabilistic nature of referential domains: evidence from mismatched perspectives

Theoretical approaches to reference assume that definite descriptions such as “the duck” are used to refer to a duck which is uniquely identifiable relative to a set of entities defined by the situational context.  Thus, the interpretation of definite descriptions crucially depends on listeners’ ability to correctly construct this situation-specific “referential domain”.  While there is considerable experimental evidence that listeners are indeed able to use various types of information to construct referential domains in real time, some evidence seems to suggest that information about the other interlocutor, i.e. information about what is in common ground, is not used in this task. In other words, evidence in the psycholinguistics literature is mixed regarding whether listeners incorporate the distinction between common and private information in the earliest moments of processing.

In this talk, I will review some of these apparently-contradictory results (Keysar et al., 2000; Heller et al., 2008), and argue that they reveal the probabilistic nature of referential domains. Specifically, I propose that instead of selecting one of several competing domains, listeners simultaneously consider more than one domain, weighing their relative contribution. I present data from two experiments in support of this approach, and discuss the implications for our understanding of referential domains more generally.