This Friday, May 18th, at 1:30 pm in Humanities 1, Room 210, there will be a colloquium by Meghan Sumner (Stanford). Her talk is entitled “Usage-based linguistic models and understanding human behavior.” Afterward, there will be a reception at 3:30pm in the Silverman Conference Room. The abstract is given below:

The past three decades of research in phonetics and psycholinguistics have led to great advances in our understanding of language, representation, and the relationship between language and other cognitive domains.  While debates certainly still exist, we can take as established that how often and in what context different speech patterns occur influence both memory and processing.  The question now is what we do with this rich foundation.

In this talk, I present a few, short examples of how usage-based approaches to phonetics and psycholinguistics help us understand social biases and human behavior. I provide some evidence showing that phonetically-cued talker information (e.g., emotion, gender) directly activates lexical items, providing us with some insights into the timing and availability of this information. The purpose of this first part is to illuminate the complexity of experiencing linguistic events from the perspective of a listener.

For the remainder of the talk, I move away from phonetics, taking the basic insights from the studies initially presented (e.g., that we are pattern recognizers) to question assumptions about language use and experience and ask how our understanding of language use, semantic associations and culture can inform society at large.  Specifically, I spend the last large chunk of this talk investigating how we can understand the refugee experience through the lens of spoken language comprehension.

Some background: As developed democracies settle an increasing number of refugees, refugees have been displaced, face daunting new laws and cultures, and yearn to make a new land their home. Regardless of perspective, that of the government or that of the refugee, numerous challenges litter the path to refugee integration. The goal of host countries is integration – realized as an ideal, productive member of society, where society stays the same and refugees learn to talk and act a certain way. In this view, language is an important measure of integration. But I argue, it is a misleading one.

As humans, we understand the world around us through sight, touch, smell and the sounds of language. We are pattern recognizers, and we make meaning from co-present cues. For example, the cartoon Tom and Jerry does not use language at all,but from it we learn to associate the animal that meows (‘cat’) with the animal that squeaks (‘mouse’). Associations like these are culture-specific; and experience leads to re-weightings that result in a new understanding of the world, and influences the wayone uses language. Focusing on Syrian and Afghan refugees in Hamburg, Germany, I propose to examine whether Arabic-speaking Syrian refugees and Dari- and/or Pashto-speaking Afghan refugees living in Hamburg for two years have re-weighted theirlanguage associations to be culturally German, compared to refugees living in Hamburg for less than 6 months. This research would show that part of the integration process, at least, is facilitated through the native language of the refugees, not hindered by it.

Three distinct but related hypotheses are investigated: (1) refugees have adapted to German culture via their native language, (2) engagement with mentors who have lived in Germany facilitates this process, and (3) this occurs regardless of literacy (more than half of Afghan refugees in Germany are non-literate). At times, we have a vision of the “ideal”; convinced that integration means “like us”. Sometimes, this ideal involves pushing back against differences such as language, that is often the one thing displaced refugees hold onto as a memory of their past lives. This talk questions that ideal, and suggests that models that harness the power of language and community may alter our ideas about integration and improve the refugee experience.


This Friday, May 4th, at 1:45 pm in Humanities 1, Room 210, there will be a colloquium by Liz Coppock (Boston). Her talk is entitled “Most vs. the most in languages where the more means most.” Afterward, there will be a reception at 3:30pm in the Silverman Conference Room. The abstract is given below:

This paper focuses on languages in which a superlative interpretation is typically indicated merely by a combination of a definiteness marker with a comparative marker, including French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, and Greek (‘DEF+CMP languages’). Despite ostensibly using definiteness markers to form the superlative, superlatives are not always definite-marked in these languages, and the distribution of definiteness-marking varies across languages. Constituency structure appears to vary across languages as well. To account for these patterns of variation, we identify conflicting pressures that all of the languages in consideration may be subject to, and suggest that different languages prioritize differently in the resolution of these conflicts. What these languages have in common, we suggest, is a mechanism of Definite Null Instantiation for the degree-type standard argument of the comparative. Among the parameters along which languages are proposed to differ is the relative importance of marking uniqueness vs. avoiding determiners with predicates of entities that are not individuals.


In the coming week (Friday April 27 – Saturday April 28) the department will host an international workshop on the theme of Pronouns and Competition.  The theme of competition (between more and less ideal expressions of the same content) has appeared constantly in both the theoretical literature on anaphoric relations and in the psycholinguistic literature which explores the real-time expression and comprehension of such relations. This workshop aims to ask if the concepts of ‘competition’ at work here are the same or different and to re-evaluate the status of competition in both domains. Over the two days of the workshop there will be 12 oral presentations and seven poster presentations, by researchers from Santa Cruz, Tel Aviv, Berlin, Harvard, Rutgers, London, Amherst, Seattle, Leipzig, Göttingen and San Diego. More information is
available here.


On Saturday, March 10th, the department hosted Linguistics at Santa Cruz (LASC), which was a resounding success. The conference featured talks spanning linguistic topics of all shapes and sizes, and languages both near and far. A day of talks and posters by second- and third-year graduate students was rounded out by distinguished UCSC alumnus Peter Svenonius’s talk on the topic of “The syntactic word”. With a healthy appetite for food and merrymaking, the participants ended the day feasting and celebrating at the Cowell Provost House. Thanks to everyone who helped make LASC happen–in particular, co-grad directors Matt Wagers and Maziar Toosarvandani, research seminar leader Donka Farkas, linguistics department staff Ashley Hardisty, Maria Zimmer, and Logan Roberts, and all the presenters.

A very special thanks is due to 4th year graduate student Jed Pizarro-Guevara, for making sure that everyone was properly fed, housed, and transported.

We also extend our gratitude to Hitomi Hirayama, this year’s LASC paparazzo, who provided us with the following photo of the LASC presenters:

Left to right: Andrew Angeles, Jake Vincent, Mansi Desai, Lisa Hofmann, Nick Van Handel, Kelsey Sasaki, Andrew Hedding, Anissa Zaitsu, Tom Roberts, Netta Ben-Meir, Donka Farkas, Lydia Werthen




Erik Zyman will be defending his dissertation at 3:00pm on Thursday, March 15th, in HUM 1 Room 202. Erik’s dissertation is titled “On the Driving Force for Syntactic Movement.” The committee consists of Jim McCloskey(chair), Sandy Chung, and Jorge Hankamer.

LASC 2018!

It’s that time of year again! This Saturday, March 10 will be Linguistics at Santa Cruz (LASC), the annual UCSC linguistics research conference showcasing second- and third-year graduate student research. The all-day event will take place in Stevenson Fireside Lounge. Four talks will be given this year spanning the subfields of syntax, semantics, pragmatics, psycholinguistics, and numerous combinations therein. Following the talks there will be a poster session with research devoted to a similar mix. The languages investigated this year include English, Somali, Hebrew, Old Japanese, and Gujarati. At the end of the day, the Distinguished Alumnus Lecture will be given by Peter Svenonius (University of Tromsø) on “The syntactic word.” Don’t miss it!