LASC 2017!

Mark your calendars for this year’s edition of Linguistics at Santa Cruz (LASC), the annual UCSC linguistics research conference at which second- and third-year graduate students present their research. The all-day event will take place on Saturday, March 18th, in Hum 1, Room 210. Eight talks are on the slate this year, covering a diverse range of subfields, including syntax, semantics, pragmatics, morphophonology, psycholinguistics, and numerous combinations therein, and spanning such languages as English, Cebuano, Georgian, Estonian, Chamorro, Hawai’i Creole, and Japanese. This year’s Distinguished Alumnus Lecture be given by Kyle Rawlins (Johns Hopkins), entitled “Unary ‘or'”. The full program can be found here. Don’t miss it!


Congratulations go to Nathan Sanders (PhD ’03), who will be starting a new job as an Assistant Professor in the Linguistics Department at the University of Toronto later this year! Nathan had this to say about the news:

Starting this summer, I will start a new chapter in my career by joining the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto as an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream. The position allows me to focus on my strengths in undergraduate teaching and curriculum design, but I’ll also be able to do research with some amazing colleagues in one of the top linguistics programs in the world. I’ll continue my research in sign language phonetics (check out my article “A cross-linguistic preference for torso stability in the lexicon: Evidence from 24 sign languages” with Donna Jo Napoli, due out in Sign Language & Linguistics this month), and I expect to finish the first draft of my phonetics and phonology textbook with Oxford University Press later this year.


Also in north of the border news, BA/MA student Lydia Werthen was at the University of Toronto last weekend for the Toronto Undergraduate Linguistics Conference (TULCON). Lydia presented her recent findings in her research on Wh-Continuation. Featured at the conference were keynote speakers Naomi Nagy, who spoke about heritage language change and variation, and Alexandra Motut, who discussed results from eye-tracking experiments in non-obligatory control. Lydia reports that despite the below-freezing weather conditions, it was a wonderful and enlightening experience!


This Tuesday, March 7th, there will be a colloquium talk given by Jennifer Smith (UNC), at 1:30pm in Hum 1, Room 210. Her talk is entitled “Unpacking the asymmetries in category-specific phonology,” and the abstract is given below:

Lexical category (N, A, V) has long been important for morphology and syntax. However, it turns out that even phonological phenomena—processes or phonotactics—sometimes apply differently to words of different lexical categories.

A typological survey of languages with category-specific phonology finds two striking asymmetries. First, category-specific phonology is skewed toward prosodic phenomena (accent, tone, word shape) rather than segmental or featural phenomena. Second, there is a hierarchy of phonological privilege N > A > V, where ‘privilege’ essentially means the ability to support greater phonological complexity.

This talk presents results from both formal phonological analysis and experimental-phonology data, arguing for the view that the skew toward prosodic phenomena comes about through extragrammatical factors (such as acquisition and diachronic change), while the hierarchy of privilege is a linguistic universal (though a ‘soft’ one that can be overcome in the face of data). Category-specific phonology has implications for theories of positional privilege in phonology; approaches to the phonology/morphosyntax interface; the formal modeling of markedness scales in natural language; and the investigation of learning biases in language acquisition and their effect on diachrony and typology.


Last quarter, we alerted you to the existence of a new reading group, WLMA, which focuses on the languages of Meso-America. Ever organized, the WLMAns have provided us this update on activities taking place in Spring Quarter and the summer.

Pranav Anand and Maziar Toosarvandani recently received a Board Opportunity Fund award from the UC Santa Cruz Foundation. Thanks to this award as well as the Linguistics Department and the Institute of Humanities Research, WLMA will be holding a one-day workshop on Monday, June 12, bringing together researchers here with three invited speakers:

Emiliana Cruz (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), a linguistic anthropologist concentrating on Chatino.

Eric Campbell (UC Santa Barbara), a morphosyntactician working on Zapotec and Chatino.

Christian DiCanio (State University of New York, Buffalo), a phonetician studying Trique and Mixtec.

The Board Opportunity Fund award will also allow us to continue development of the technical infrastructure to support ongoing fieldwork by WLMAns in several Mixe, Mixtec, Zapotec languages spoken in the Monterey Bay area.

We are also happy to announce that Andrew Hedding and Jason Ostrove have been selected as UC Public Scholars for 2017-2018, thanks to support by the UC Santa Cruz Institute of Humanities Research and the Mellon Public Scholars Program at the UC Davis Humanities Institute. The awards will enable Andrew and Jason to devote time during Summer 2017 toward their respective fieldwork on Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec Mixe and San Martín Peras Mixtec as well as to language and culture documentation for community members and the general public.


Next week, on Wednesday, March 15th, Ivy Sichel will be giving this quarter’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture for Stevenson College. The talk begins at 4:30pm in the Stevenson Fireside Lounge, with a reception to follow. Her lecture is entitled “Ideology and Identity in the Revival of Spoken Hebrew”, and you can read more about it in the blurb below.

The revival of Spoken Hebrew took place in Palestine in the early 20th century, and is often seen as a historically unique example of successful language revival. In this talk I suggest that Hebrew is also exemplary, of the ways in which our languages speak through us. What is special about Hebrew is that key properties of the revival process – its rapidity and recency – make it possible to track mechanisms by which broader ideologies (of nation, ancestry, class, gender, etc.) come to be embedded in the languages we speak. The talk will focus on East-West diasporic dynamics in the negotiation of accent for the new spoken Hebrew, and on the shifting values of authenticity and sincerity in the construction of the new native-born speech style.


This Thursday, March 2nd, Amanda Rysling (UMass Amherst) will be giving a colloquium talk at 1:30pm in Humanities 2, Room 259. Her talk is entitled “Preferential early attribution in segmental perception” and the abstract is given below.

Recognizing the speech we hear as the sounds of the languages we speak requires solving a parsing problem: mapping from the acoustic input we receive to the sounds and words we recognize as our language. The way that listeners do this impacts the phonologies of the world’s languages.

Most work on segmental perception has focused on how listeners successfully disentangle the effects of segmental coarticulation. An assumption of this literature is that listeners almost always attribute the acoustic products of articulation to the sounds whose articulation created those products. As a result, listeners usually judge two successive phones to be maximally distinct from each other in clear listening conditions. Few studies (Fujimura, Macchi, & Streeter, 1978; Kingston & Shinya, 2003; Repp, 1983) have examined cases in which listeners seem to systematically “mis-parse” (Ohala, 1981; et seq.), hearing two sounds in a row as similar to each other, and apparently failing to disentangle the blend of their production. I advance the hypothesis that listeners default to attributing incoming acoustic material to the first of two phones in a sequence, even when that material includes the products of the second phone’s articulation. I report studies which show that listeners persist in attributing the acoustic products of a second sound’s articulation to a first sound even when the signal conveys early explicit evidence about the identity of that second sound. Thus, in cases in which listeners could have leveraged articulatory information to begin disentangling the first sound from the second, they did not do so. I argue that this behavior arises from a domain-general perceptual bias to construe temporally distributed input as evidence of one event, rather than two.

These results support a new conceptualization of the segmental parsing problem. Since listeners necessarily perceive events in the world at a delay from when those events occurred, it may be adaptive to attribute the incoming signal to an earlier speech sound when no other determining information is available. There are cases in which listeners do not disentangle the coarticulated acoustics of two sequential sounds, because they are not compelled to do so. Finally, I argue that this has affected the phonologies of the world’s languages, resulting in, for example, predominantly regressive assimilation of major place features.