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.


On Thursday, Sandy Chung, Matt Wagers, Jed Pizarro-Guevara, Jake Vincent, and Richard Bibbs were at Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan, for the 25th Annual Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association. They report a collegial environment to exchange ideas and nerd out on anything Austronesian.

Sandy and Matt opened the conference on Thursday with an invited talk about resumptive pronouns in Chamorro and Palauan. They argue that in both languages, resumptive pronouns arise in two ways: one that is licensed by the grammar, and another that is produced outside the grammar.

Jed (joint work with Matt) presented experimental evidence for an asymmetry in the extraction-restriction in Tagalog, and proposed that the results could be reframed as two grammars in competition. He provides computational evidence consistent with a two-grammar hypothesis.

The first day ended with a bang—with a Chinese lauriat, a multi-course meal that seemed endless! Especially noteworthy is the soup called “Buddha jumps over the wall”.

On Friday, former banana slug Eric Potsdam (University of Florida) opened the second day with an invited talk about ellipsis in Malagasy.

Later that day, Jake gave a presentation about the encoding of sentential negation in Chamorro and how phrases exhibiting negative concord might be licensed. He focused on explaining the inability for subjects to either signal sentential negation or exhibit negative concord without undergoing focus movement to Spec, CP.

Finally, Richard presented on an agentive nominalizing morpheme in Chamorro. He claimed that the morpheme is a reduplicant, and proposed a markedness analysis accounting for why the vowel of the reduplicant surfaces as non-identical to the vowel in the base.

Richard, Jake, and Jed enjoyed the company of new friends and old. Night markets, festival for a sea goddess, delicious oolong tea, craft cocktails, karaoke, and efficient public transportation were some of the things in Taiwan that they really appreciate. They can’t wait to be back!Pictured (left to right): Richard Bibbs, Jake Vincent, Eric Potsdam, Sandy Chung, Matt Wagers, Jed Pizarro-Guevara


On April 20-22, Ivy Sichel and Jake Vincent travelled to UCLA to participate in the 36th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL)Maura O’Leary, former slug (BA ’13) and one of our recent visiting researchers, was one of the main organizers of WCCFL this year.

As an invited speaker, Ivy presented joint work on demonstratives with Martina Wiltschko (UBC) in a talk titled “Appraisal and Alternatives.”

Jake presented a poster on the research from his first QP about Chamorro internally headed relative clauses. He reports:

I had several helpful conversations that will help me push the research on that project forward. There were lots of interesting/inspiring talks and posters seeking to answer big theoretical questions. It was my first time visiting UCLA. Its campus is very different from UCSC’s, but is still very beautiful. Also, the inverted fountain is super cool.

The program is available here.


The week before last Ryan Bennett spent three very enjoyable days at MIT, where he gave a mini-course on the phonetics, phonology, and morphology of Kaqchikel, along with a colloquium on the unique behavior of subject pronouns under focus and ellipsis in Irish. Ryan was very grateful for the hospitality he received, as well as the many thought-provoking, challenging, and constructive comments made by MIT students and faculty at his presentations.


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.


Anissa Zaitsu and Tom Roberts were in Chicago last weekend at CLS 54. Anissa presented a talk on why-VP constructions, bravely arguing in the Ellipsis session that they are derived non-elliptically. Tom gave a talk about experimental work on the pragmatics of biased polar questions in Estonian. They report a collegial environment, full of plenty of new friends and raucous multilingual karaoke.