This Friday, November 17th, at 4:00 pm in Humanities 1, Room 210, there will be a colloquium talk by Brian Dillon (UMass, Amherst). His talk is entitled “Process and representation in morphosyntactic processing: A psychophysical approach using Signal Detection Theory.” The abstract is given below:

Intuitive acceptability judgments have long formed the empirical foundation of syntactic and (to a lesser extent) psycholinguistic theories (Schütze, 1996). Despite their centrality, there remain many open issues in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of acceptability judgment data. One important thread of research in experimental syntax addresses these issues by borrowing methodology from psychophysics, such as magnitude estimation (Bard et al. 1996; Cowart, 1997), to more precisely model the relationship between linguistic stimuli and perceived acceptability.

In this talk I will follow these researchers in treating intuitions of acceptability as psychological evidence. Accordingly, I will argue that acceptability judgments can be fruitfully understood as psychophysical data. To this end, I will describe a framework for analyzing acceptability judgment data using Signal Detection Theory (Bader & Haussler, 2010; Macmillan & Creelman, 2005). This approach offers an explicit model of how the underlying percept of acceptability is reflected in experimental measures of acceptability, such as judgments in a rating task.

To illustrate this approach, I survey a series of studies that investigate diverse illusory agreement licensing phenomena (“agreement attraction”) in English using untimed acceptability judgment measures (joint work with Charles Clifton, Christopher Hammerly, Joshua Levy, and Adrian Staub). I report several results. First, untimed judgment measure mirror the patterns seen in more ‘online’ measures of sentence comprehension. Second, the untimed judgment data exhibit surprisingly little evidence of contamination from slow, ‘deliberative’ processes (cf. Bader & Haussler, 2010). Third, and perhaps most interestingly, this analysis of the judgment data yields unique insights into the cognitive processes and representations that underly agreement attraction effects. In particular, the judgment data lend support to models that analyze illusory agreement errors as the result of mis-identification of an agreement controller in working memory (e.g. Badecker & Kuminiak, 2007; Wagers et al., 2009), rather than models that locate the error in a noisy representation of the morphosyntactic features of the agreement controller (e.g. Eberhard, Cutting & Bock, 2005).


In connection with the IHR-sponsored SPOT workshop, we will be hosting several visiting faculty in the department this week. Besides giving their respective talks, they will be attending seminars, reading groups, and holding office hours.

Please welcome:
Shin Ishihara (Lund University, Sweden): Monday 11/13 – Sat 11/18
Lisa Selkirk (UMass, Amherst): Friday 11/17 – Sat 11/18


SPLAP: Wednesday, 1:20 – 2:20 pm, LCR There will be a discussion of Chapter 3 of Wataru Uegaki’s dissertation

s/lab: Wednesday, 3:00 – 4:00 pm, LCR Amanda Rysling and visiting BA alum Shayne Sloggett will be presenting

LaLoCoThursday, 2:00 – 3:00 pm, LCR Continued discussion of  Chapter 5 of the textbook “Intro to Connectionist Modeling of Cognitive Processes”, which is about back-propagation and multi-layer networks

PhlunchFriday, 12:00 – 1:00 pm, LCR Andrew Angeles will be leading a discussion of “Postfocal Downstep in German” (Kügler and Féry 2017)



Fourth-year grad student Steven Foley recently visited Reykjavík for NELS 48, hosted by the University of Iceland. There he presented recent work on Georgian relative clause processing, done in collaboration with Matt Wagers. Steven reports an altogether lively and stimulating conference, which featured a number of Santa Cruz alumni, including Eric Baković, Matt Barros, Boris Harizanov, Eric Potsdam, Kyle Rawlins, Rachel Walker, and Aaron Steven White. But more impressive than the conference was Iceland itself. Just outside Reykjavík is an otherworldly landscape of lava fields, glaciers, and geysers (pictured). Steven regrets missing a few other natural phenomena the country is known for (the northern lights, Björk), so he hopes it won’t take another 48 years for Iceland to host NELS again.