Our alumna Emily Morgan (Ph.D. 2016), who is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at Tufts University, is one of the invited speakers at The 30th CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, which will take place March 30 – April 1, 2017 at MIT, Cambridge MA.
Graduate student Anne Therese Frederiksen recently published a paper on gesture form and function in Language and Cognition titled ‘Separating viewpoint from mode of representation in iconic co-speech gestures: insights from Danish narratives‘.
Abstract: During narrative retelling, speakers shift between different viewpoints to reflect how they conceptualize the events that unfolded. These viewpoints can be indicated through gestural
means as well as through verbal ones. Studies of co-speech gestures have inferred viewpoint from gesture form, i.e. how entities are mapped onto the (primarily manual) articulators, but the merits of this approach have not been discussed. The present study argues that viewpoint is more than gestural form. Despite connections between the two, many other factors may influence a gesture’s form. Assessing viewpoint from gesture form alone limits the applicability of gestural viewpoint as a window onto speakers’ event conceptualization and introduces unnecessary differences in the categorization of viewpoint across gestures types. The present study examines iconic co-speech gestures in Danish narratives, and makes explicit the means used to infer gestural viewpoint. The approach advocated here ensures that the notion of viewpoint can be applied in a principled way to all or most iconic gestures.
Congratulations to our graduate student Anne Therese Frederiksen for receiving an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant to study the ‘Interplay between Language and Cognition in American Sign Language Referential Cohesion’!
Our alumnus Dr. Ryan Lepic (Ph.D., 2015), who is currently a lecturer in our department, has just accepted a three-year post-doc in the Goldin-Meadow Laboratory at the University of Chicago. He will be contributing to the lab’s on-going research on the role of gesture in math learning. He will move to Chicago in June. Congratulations, Ryan!
Many members of our department presented at the Linguistics Society of America’s 91st Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas on January 5-8. They are listed below in bold and in alphabetical order, together with their co-authors and the titles of their presentations:
“The acquisition of Greek clitic construction prosody: an acoustic analysis”
Angeliki Athanasopoulou, Irene Vogel (University of Delaware), Hossep Dolatian (University of Delaware)
“Are the acoustic properties of canonical and non-canonical stress the same?”
“Apparent ‘sufficiently similar’ degemination in Catalan is due to coalescence”
“Designing a language and the design of language”
Meilin Zhan (MIT), Roger Levy (MIT), and Andrew Kehler
“Testing a Bayesian pronoun interpretation model with Chinese ba and bei”
“A usage-based analysis of the THEME construction in ASL”
Ryan Lepic and Corrine Occhino (University of New Mexico)
“Sign language structure: a construction-theoretic perspective”
“Non-stationarity and other critical mathematical problems for channel coding-based explanations of variation in language production”
“Formal acceptability experiments as a tool for exploring variation in constituent order”
“The President gave her inauguration speech: explicit belief and implicit expectations in language production and comprehension”
A successful syntactic theory provides insight into the creative machinery of language. However, there is an apparent fundamental divide among current syntactic theories. Mainstream Generative Grammar uses the simplest possible building blocks and provides a theory of the nature of syntactic structure, but its connection to real-time sentence processing is entirely unclear. On the contrary, “lexicalist” grammatical theories posit structurally complex building blocks and
connect well with real-time sentence processing but lack insight into the origin of these structures.
In this talk I propose an integration of these two approaches: a
Minimalist Grammar as a system of conceptual-semantic combination that generates syntactic objects, and Tree-Adjoining Grammar as a system that makes efficient use of these objects during comprehension and production. I provide evidence for this integrated framework with neuroimaging experiments that localize these systems to distinct anatomical locations of the brain. I also present neuroimaging data that support the integrated approach to an important problem for syntactic theory: island phenomena. I will discuss how the integrated approach facilitates communication among syntactic theory, psycholinguistics, and neurolinguistics, and potentially allows for better understanding of language acquisition and language disorders.
An open access article by Eva Wittenberg and Roger Levy has just appeared in Journal of Memory and Language! Here’s the abstract:
When we hear an event description, our mental construal is not only based on lexical items, but also on the message’s syntactic structure. This has been well-studied in the domains of causation, event participants, and object conceptualization. Less studied are the construals of temporality and numerosity as a function of syntax. We present a theory of how syntax affects the construal of event similarity and duration in a way that is systematically predictable from the interaction of mass/count syntax and verb semantics, and test these predictions in six studies. Punctive events in count syntax (give a kiss) and durative events in mass syntax (give advice) are construed as taking less time than in transitive frame (kiss and advise). Durative verbs in count syntax (give a talk), however, result in a semantic shift, orthogonal to duration estimates. These results demonstrate how syntactic and semantic structure together systematically affect event construal.
A paper by Farrell Ackerman, Rob Malouf, and John Moore has just appeared in the Journal of Linguistics! Here’s the abstract.
This paper examines the syntactic and semantic behavior of object arguments in Moro, a Kordofanian language spoken in central Sudan. In particular, we focus on multiple object constructions (ditransitives, applicatives, and causatives) and show that these objects exhibit symmetrical syntactic behavior; e.g., any object can passivize or be realized as an object marker, and all can do so simultaneously. Moreover, we demonstrate that each object can bear any of the non-agentive roles in a verb’s semantic role inventory and that the resulting ambiguities are an entailment of symmetrical object constructions of the type found in Moro. Previous treatments of symmetrical languages have assumed a syntactic asymmetry between multiple objects and have developed theoretical analyses that treat symmetrical behaviors as departures from an asymmetrical basic organization of clausal syntax. We take a different approach: we develop a Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar account that allows a partial ordering of the argument structure (arg-st) list. The guiding idea is that languages differ with respect to the organization of their arg-st lists and their consequences for grammatical function realization: there is no privileged encoding, but there is large variation within the parameters defined by arg-st organization. This accounts directly for the symmetrical behaviors of multiple objects. We also show how this approach can be extended to account for certain asymmetrical behaviors in Moro.
Jeremy Skipper (University College London) and Eva Wittenberg received a small grant from the Global Engagement Fund at UCL to deepen their collaboration on how spatial and temporal activation patterns in the brain can predict pronoun resolution. The grant will serve as seed funding for mutual visits in order to plan a behavioral pilot study, and a series of neuroimaging studies.