Tag Archives: Psycholinguistics/Cognition
6/27 Janet Pierrehumbert (Sapir Professor): “Lexical Variability”


Janet Pierrehumbert, Northwestern University
2013 Linguistic Institute’s Edward Sapir Professor
Thursday, June 27, 2013 7:00 pm
Askwith Auditorium, Lorch Hall
Reception to follow


Read Abstract

Words are the nexus of the relation between form and meaning in language, and a rich lexicon is a hallmark of the intelligence of the human species. Words support cooperation amongst people by enabling them to share complex information about other times and places, abstract ideas, and emotions and social judgments. These facts motivate a large and fruitful body of research on how  shared vocabularies arise in linguistic communities, and how children acquire the vocabulary of the language spoken around them.  This emphasis on lexical convergence, however,  abstracts away from significant differences across speakers  in the total inventory of words, their abstract representations, their detailed phonetics,  and their patterns of use in context.  Equally,  it abstracts away from variation across words in who knows them, when and where they are used, and how they are pronounced. It  begs the question of  how the vocabularies of languages keep changing even after  a shared norm is in place.

This talk will document an assortment of cases of lexical variability, which touch on levels of linguistic representation from phonetics to pragmatics.  All  involve the interaction of cognitive and social factors in learning, remembering, and producing words. I will discuss these cases in the context of computational models of language acquisition and change.  I conclude by  developing a connection between synchronic variation and the robustness and  adaptability of language over time.

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7/14 How the Brain Accommodates Variability in Linguistic Representations

July 14, 2013
Aud C, Angell Hall

Organizer Contact: T. Florian Jaeger (fjaeger@bcs.rochester.edu)

Click here for workshop website.

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Computational Psycholinguistics

John Hale – Cornell University
Lars Konieczny – University of Freiburg
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 9:00-10:50 am
2330 Mason Hall

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This course examines cognitive models of human sentence comprehension. Such models are programs that express psycholinguistic theories of how people unconsciously put together words and phrases in order to make sense of what they hear (or read). They hold out the promise of rigorously connecting behavioral measurements to broader theories, for instance theories of natural language syntax or cognitive architecture. The course brings students up to speed on the role of computer models in cognitive science generally, and situates the topic in relation to neighboring fields such as psychology and generative grammar. Students master several different viewpoints on what it might mean to “attach” a piece of phrase structure. Attendees will get familiar with notions of experience, probability and information theory as candidate explanations of human sentence processing difficulty. This course has no prerequisites although exposure to artificial intelligence, generative grammar and cognitive psychology will help deepen the experience.

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Introduction to Psycholinguistics

Matt Traxler – University of California, Davis
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 9:00-10:50 am
1401 Mason Hall

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Language scientists attempt to answer three fundamental questions:  1. What does one know when one knows a language?  2. How does an individual access and use that knowledge when producing or understanding language?  3. How did we get this way?  This course will focus on the first two of these three questions.  Students will gain an appreciation for the kinds of theories that language scientists have developed to answer these questions as well as the research methods used to investigate them.  The course will focus chiefly on comprehension issues, but we will also examine contemporary theories of speech production, such as Levelt and Roelof’s Weaver ++ and Dell’s interactive account.

Students will review contemporary accounts of lexical, syntactic, and discourse processing.  This review includes both accounts of normal language function but also the sequelae of brain damage and other forms of language dysfunction. Topics relating to lexical processing include theories of semantic representation, lexical access, and the neural basis of lexical representation and processing. Topics relating to syntactic processing include accounts of syntactic parsing, serial versus parallel processing approaches, and processing of unbounded dependencies. Topics relating to discourse processing include contemporary accounts of discourse representation, inferencing, and the neural basis of discourse processing and representations.


Language Variation and Thought

John A. Lucy – University of Chicago
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2407 Mason Hall

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This course will explore research on the significance of natural language variation in shaping human thought.  The first unit of the course provides essential background by introducing historical and conceptual perspectives on the relation of language and reality that continue to shape our understanding of language variation and by surveying early work in anthropology (Boas, Sapir, Whorf) and psychology (Brown, Lenneberg, Carroll) linking language variation to thought.  Classic topics involving lexical forms denoting “color” and “snow” will be discussed critically.  The second unit reviews and contrasts prominent contemporary approaches from within anthropological linguistics, including both structure-centered approaches (Lucy et al.) and domain-centered approaches (Levinson et al.), as well as several influential approaches within psychology (Slobin, Boroditsky).  The discussions will highlight both continuities and innovations with respect to earlier work.  The third unit will review recent research extending these approaches to new populations including the deaf, young children, bilinguals, etc.  These approaches not only offer avenues to exploring underlying mechanisms but also open up ways of theorizing the centrality and trade-offs of relying on language in human thought.  The final unit will explore variations in the cultural and institutional regimentation of language-thought relationships, first in the areas of standard language as promulgated through education and literacy, and then within the research enterprise itself in areas involving practical translation, including comparative linguistic research.  Readings will be drawn from many fields but will emphasize classic works that emphasize comparative, developmental, and critical approaches and provide a foundation for further research.  Class time will be divided between general orienting lectures on theoretical issues and close discussion of key empirical works.

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Sentences and the Social: Representing Syntactic Variation

Julie Boland – University of Michigan
Lauren Squires – Ohio State University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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Knowing the grammar of your language entails understanding how meanings map to syntactic structures, but these mappings are not strictly one-to-one.  We know, for example, that “Chris gave the book to Kim”  and “Chris gave Kim the book” are semantically equivalent and interchangeable. Likewise, we know “That car don’t run” is semantically equivalent to “That car doesn’t run,” but the two expressions are not interchangeable because the former is sociolinguistically marked. In this class, we explore the intersection of syntactic variation and sentence processing. Our approach assumes that knowledge of syntactic alternants, and of the social patterning of those alternants, is incorporated into our mental representations of grammar. As such, this knowledge should also be reflected in psycholinguistic theories. We will consider current theorizing that bears on this topic, and its limitations. Readings and discussion will address the following set of issues:

1. How do children deal with syntactic variation in the input?

2. How do adults represent and acquire syntactic variants that they themselves don’t use?

3. What is the role of language variation in sentence processing?

4. How do/can current models of linguistic competence and processing accommodate syntactic variation?

This course will be taught seminar-style, with students leading some of the discussions. The readings will focus on recent experimental research using a variety of online and offline methodologies. Students will work together to develop research proposals, which they will present to the class and write up as a final paper.

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Speech Perception

Pam Beddor – University of Michigan
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 3:30-5:20 pm

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This course introduces students to the basic principles and theories of speech perception.  We will take a hands-on approach, conducting small-scale experiments to illustrate classic phenomena and test selected theoretical claims.

In a very broad sense, much of the research in the roughly 60-year history of experimental speech perception investigates how listeners map the input acoustic signal onto phonological units. Determining the nature of the mapping is a complex issue because the acoustic signal is highly variable, yet perception remains nearly constant across many types of variation. Some theoretical approaches to speech perception postulate that invariant properties in the input signal underlie perceptual constancy. Other approaches do not assume invariants but either require principles that account for the necessarily more complex mapping between signal and phonological representation, or require more complex representations. As a result, theoretical approaches differ in their assumptions concerning the relevant phonological units (features, gestures, segments, words) and the structure of these units (e.g., abstract representations, stored memory traces of auditory experiences). These issues will serve as our overarching framework. However, in addressing them we will also consider: What initial perceptual capabilities do infants have, what is the nature of our perceptual experiences, and how do these determine perceptual learning? How do listeners weight multiple sources of information, and integrate these cues into a coherent linguistic percept? How might cue weighting serve as an impetus for sound change? How do social categories and phonetic categories interact in perception?

Some background in acoustic phonetics is recommended for this course.

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The Bilingual Brain

Loraine Obler – City University of New York Graduate Center
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2336 Mason Hall

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For a century and a half ,data have been gathered on brain organization for language. From early on, as this research was initially carried out primarily in Europe, questions have been asked about how language is represented and processed in the brains of bilinguals and multilinguals. In this class we will review the questions that have been asked and the currently held answers concerning how brains handle more than one language. After an initial review of brain regions that have been identified as crucial for language generally and methods for studying them, topics will include a selection of the following:

- Parallel and differential impairment and recovery from aphasia in bilinguals

- Consequences of age of L2 acquisition

- Consequences of age of diminishment of L 1 or L2 use (e.g., in heritage-language speakers)

- Bilingual switching

- Cognitive advantages of bilingualism

- Talented L2 learning and hyperpolyglots

- Particular difficulties with L2 learning (links to dyslexia)

- L1 and L2 attrition

- Shared and distinct components of the bilingual’s two languages (e.g., cognates vs. non-cognates; bidialectalism vs. bilingualism)

- Differences between bilingualism and multilingualism

- Bilingualism in Alzheimer’s disease

Our focus will be not only on the phenomena of interest, but also on how neurolinguistic methods lead to findings and what the relative advantages and disadvantages of the commonly used techniques are.

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The Phonological Mind

Iris Berent – Northeastern University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2325 Mason Hall

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All human languages construct words from meaningless elements—either speech sounds (in spoken languages) or manual gestures (in signed linguistic systems).  Not only are phonological patterns evident in every known human language, but they even emerge anew, in the systems generated spontaneously in the homes of deaf signers and in newly emerging languages.  Why do humans engage in phonological patterning? And what mechanisms support our capacity to extend our phonological reflexes to novel forms?

This course addresses these questions from a broad interdisciplinary perspective. We consider evidence from diverse sources, ranging from linguistic analysis to experimental studies of humans, comparative animal work, neurological evidence, genetic studies and computational simulations of language evolution. Select issues include:

  • Specialization and innateness: What is an innate specialized cognitive system?

  • Generalizations: What computational mechanisms support phonological generalizations? Do they exhibit the capacity for discrete infinity?

  • Design. Are there constraints on the design of phonological systems—actual and potential? What is the nature of such restrictions: do they concern language, broadly, or speech, specifically?

  • Hardware: What genes and brain “hardware” regulate the phonological system? Is this hardware specialized for language?

  • Ontogeny: Are some phonological precursors present at birth?

  • Phylogeny: What components of the phonological mind are shared with our evolutionary ancestors? How did the human capacity for phonological patterning evolve?

  • Phonological technologies. Unlike language, reading and writing are “linguistic technologies” that emerge (sometimes spontaneously) on the basis of linguistic principles. Why is reading based on phonology? And why do reading disorders impair speech perception?


Usage-based Models of First and Second Language Acquisition

Nick Ellis – University of Michigan
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 1:30-3:20 pm
2336 Mason Hall

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This course develops a constructionist approach to First and Second Language Acquisition (L1A, L2A). It presents psycholinguistic and corpus linguistic evidence for L2 constructions and for the inseparability of lexis, grammar, and semantics. It outlines a psycholinguistic theory of language learning following general cognitive principles of category learning, with schematic constructions emerging from usage. It reviews how the following factors jointly determine how a construction is learned: (1) the exemplar frequencies and their Zipfian distribution; (2) the salience of their form; (3) the significance of their functional interpretation; (4) the exemplars’ similarity to the construction prototype; and (5) the reliability of these form-function mappings. It tests these proposals against large corpora of usage and longitudinal corpora of L1 and L2 learner language using statistical and computational modelling. It considers the psychology of transfer and learned attention in L2A in order to understand how L2A differs from L1A in that it involves reconstructing language, with learners’ expectations and attentional biases tuned by experience of their L1. A central theme of the course is that patterns of language usage, structure, acquisition, and change are emergent, and that there is value in viewing Language as a Complex Adaptive System.

Week 1: Constructions, their cognition and acquisition

Week 2: A frequency-informed construction grammar of English usage

Week 3: Construction learning in L1A and L2A longitudinal corpora

Week 4: L2A, learned attention, and transfer and their implications for instruction.

Course Areas: Language Acquisition, Semantics/Pragmatics, Psycholinguistics, Corpus Linguistics, Cognitive Linguistics

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