We host a colloquium series on contemporary topics in linguistics every spring and fall semester. From examining loan words in minority languages to the intersection of psycholinguistics and morphological processes, we invite you to learn about a variety of topics from experts in the fascinating world of linguistics.
Upcoming Colloquium Series
Stay tuned for upcoming colloquiums.
- September 8th: Hedvig Skirgard (Online, 9:00am); https://www.eva.mpg.de/linguistic-and-cultural-evolution/staff/hedvig-skirgard
Linguistics - comparing classic approaches and new methods with Oceanic grammar and introducing Grambank, a new database for typological research
Ancestral State Reconstruction (ASR) is an essential part of historical linguistics. Conventional ASR relies on three core principles: fewest changes on the tree, plausibility of changes and plausibility of the resulting combinations of features in proto-languages. This approach has some problems, in particular the definition of what is plausible and the disregard of branch lengths. This study compares the classic approach of ASR to computational tools (Maximum Parsimony and Maximum Likelihood), conceptually and practically. Computational models have the advantage of being more transparent, consistent and replicable, and the disadvantage of lacking nuanced knowledge and context. Using data from the new structural database Grambank, I compare reconstructions of the grammar of ancestral Oceanic languages from the historical linguistics literature to those achieved by computational means. The results show that there is a high degree of agreement between manual and computational approaches, with a tendency for classical historical linguistics to agree more with the approaches that ignore branch lengths. Taking into account branch lengths explicitly is more conceptually sound, as such the field of historical linguistics should engage in improving methods in this direction. A combination of computational methods and qualitative knowledge is possible in future and would be of great benefit.
- September 22nd: Gaspar Begus (In-person); https://gbegus.github.io/
This coming Friday Sept 22 we welcome Dr. Gasper Begus from UC Berkeley who will be speaking on "Modeling language as a dependency between the latent space and data". This talk is in-person. Dr. Begus is available for meetings on Friday morning and afternoon before the colloquium. Slots are 30 minutes, and up to three people at a time can sign up for one slot. To sign up, please go to:
Date/Time: Friday Sept 22, 3:00 - 4:30
Location: Communications 311
Modeling language as a dependency between the latent space and data
There are many ways to model language -- with rules, exemplars, finite state automata, or Bayesian approaches. In this talk, I propose a new way to model language in a fully unsupervised way from raw speech: as a dependency between latent space and generated data in generative AI models called Generative Adversarial Nets (GANs). I argue that such modeling has implications both for the understanding of language acquisition and for the understanding of how deep neural networks learn internal representations. I propose an extension of the GAN architecture (fiwGAN) in which meaningful linguistic properties emerge from two networks learning to exchange information. FiwGAN captures the perception-production loop of human speech and, unlike most other deep learning architectures, has traces of communicative intent. I further propose a technique to identify latent variables in deep convolutional networks that represent linguistically meaningful units in a causal, disentangled, and interpretable way. We can thus uncover symbolic-like representations at the phonetic, phonological, syntactic, and lexical semantic levels, analyze how learning biases in GANs match human learning biases in behavioral experiments, how speech processing in the brain compares to intermediate representations in deep neural networks, and what GANs’ innovative outputs can teach us about productivity in human language.
- September 29th: CANCELLED (Rescheduled for the Spring)
- October 13th: Deniz Rudin (In-person); https://denizrudin.github.io/
This Friday we welcome Prof. Deniz Rudin of the University of Southern California as our Linguistics colloquium speaker. Please join us!
Time/date: Friday Oct 13, 3-4:30
A third try at a parsimonious analysis: verbs of speech don’t relate individuals to propositions at all. We only thought they did because we weren’t thinking about the entire empirical picture. Verbs of speech just describe speaking events. The thematic structure by which ordinary clausal complements relate to verbs of speech contributes a relation between speaking events and their propositional content (Kratzer 2006, Moulton 2009, Hacquard 2010). Quotative complements do not relate to verbs of speech via the same thematic structure: instead of specifying the propositional content of a speech event, they specify a demonstration of it.
I currently think this analysis is right. If it’s right, there’s an important semantic difference between (1) and (2). (1) can be paraphrased as “There is a speaking event whose agent is Ai, the the propositional content expressed by that event is that she wants boba." (2) Can be paraphrased as “There is a speaking event whose agent is Ai, and it went like this: ‘I want boba.’ “. When, as in this case, the quotation is of an assertive utterance, it’s easy to mistake the two descriptions for synonymous.
- October 20th: Shelome Gooden (In-person); https://www.linguistics.pitt.edu/people/shelome-gooden
Prof. Shelome Gooden of the University of Pittsburgh will be speaking to us this Friday, October 20. Please join us! Title/abstract, and a bio for Dr. Gooden are included below.
Structure, Variation and Change in Creoles: Views from the P-side
Discussions about Creole language structures inevitably center on questions of language transfer, variation and change and on implications for theories of language change. While theoretical musings are commonplace for grammatical properties of Creoles, discussions on lessons from the P-side (phonology, phonetics, prosody) have not happened in ernest (Clements & Gooden 2009). The gauge has not shifted much, among Creolists, nor in the wider field of linguistics. On one hand, the research of Creole language P-side (phonology, phonetics, prosody) has not advanced significantly. On the other hand, outside of Creolistics, the languages are still seen as infantile language systems, crucibles of simplicity, thus contributing little to advance linguistic theory (Gooden 2022). Using (semi) spontaneous speech data from rural varieties of Jamaican Creole, I present three cases that offer a sampling of the kinds of data that might be used to fuel exciting new avenues of inquiry to better our understanding of processes of language variation and change. These data also demonstrate that are not linguistics aberrations, but products of natural processes of speaker creativity, i.e. evidence against Creole exceptionalism (DeGraff 2005; Winford 2012; Gooden 2022).
Case 1: Some descriptions describe JC stops as pulmonic egressive ([b, [d], [g]), but some more recent works have argued that these can be pronounced as implosives ([ɓ],[ɗ], [ɠ]), or that JC has implosives stops (Devonish & Harry 2004; Harry 2006). The current analysis demonstrates there is variability in production of voiced stops influenced by factors such as place of articulation, word duration, speaking style, and discourse topic. I argue that JC speakers manipulate stop articulation in ways that may (or may not) be indicative of substrate transfer effects.
Case 2: Despite the rich history of language contact, English lexicon Creoles like JC and Trinidadian are not prosodic clones of their input languages. So, while JC, has an ip and IP above the word, (Gooden 2003, 2014), Trinidadian English Creole has an accentual phrase (AP) rather than an ip Drayton (2014). Acoustic cues to prosodic phrasing are largely unexplored and the initial evidence suggests these include duration, tone height, pitch scaling, voice quality differences. Further, in JC there is some evidence of geographical variation is tone height realization between Central and Eastern varieties.
Case 3: Focus prosody. A well documented focus strategy in Creoles is morphosyntactic marking through word order changes or focus particles (e.g. Bryne, Caskey & Winford 1993, Kouwenberg 1994, Patrick 2004, Aboh 2006, Durrelman 2007). What is less well known (and has been argued not to occur) are strategies that make use of intonation and the position and type of pitch accent. Not only are intonational strategies used, but they permit multiple foci where purely morphosyntactic strategies for focus are impossible.
Shelome Gooden is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh and is currently Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research for the Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences, and Related Fields. She received an MA and PhD in Linguistics from the Ohio State University (2003). She has served on the advisory board for Creative Multilingualism, and for the past 16 years has served in various roles on the Executive committee of the Society of Pidgin and Creole Languages and has been a member of the Society for Caribbean Linguistics for just over 25 years. Her research focuses mainly on language contact, intonation and prosody in black language varieties in the Caribbean. Fieldwork has taken her to Belize and Jamaica and she also has worked with digitized recordings of varieties like Sranan, Trinidadian and African American English. She designed and teaches a course on Language and the Black Experience for which she has won a teaching award. Her peer-reviewed publications are a combination of journal articles, edited volumes, edited special issues of top Linguistics journals, high-profile conference proceedings and invited full- length articles to prestigious Handbooks. She has served as prepublication reviewer for 12 different peer reviewed research publications across the fields of linguistics, abstract reviewer for various national and international linguistics conferences and grant reviewer and panelist for the National Science Foundation. Most recently, she took on the role of Co-editor for Language, and is the Publications Officer for the Society of Caribbean Linguistics. Gooden’s recent publications include; In the Fisherman’s Net. Language Contact in a sociolinguistics context (in Blake & Buchstaller 2019); Intonation and Prosody in Creole Languages: An evolving ecology. Annual Review of Linguistics (2022). She was guest co-editor for a special issue of Language and Speech journal (2022); co-editor of a book for Language Sciences Press (Social and structural aspects of language contact and change, 2022).
- November 3rd: Rolando Coto Solano (In-person); https://linguistics.dartmouth.edu/people/rolando-coto-solano
This Friday Nov 3, Dr. Rolando Coto Solano of Dartmouth College will speak to us in the Linguistics Colloquium series (Title/abstract below). Dr. Coto Solano is a graduate of our own PhD program and we're especially pleased to hear from him. Please join us!
- November 17th: Masud Jasbi (In-person); https://jasbi.github.io/
- December 1st: Sharon Rose (In-person); https://pages.ucsd.edu/~rose/indexresearch.html-
Past Colloquium Series
Speaker I – Will Oxford of MIT and University of Manitoba
Topic: How to be(come) a direct/inverse language
In a “direct/inverse” alignment system, the agreement morphology that indexes a particular nominal is determined by the nominal’s rank on the person hierarchy rather than by its grammatical function, and a special marker indicates whether the highest-ranking nominal is the agent (direct) or patient (inverse). Algonquian languages are often seen as the prototypical example of such a system, but from a diachronic perspective, the Algonquian direct/inverse pattern is not particularly old: internal and external evidence both point to a reconstructed ancestor in which the agreement morphology shows prototypical nominative/accusative alignment. So where did the direct/inverse pattern come from, and how does the underlying syntax of a direct/inverse language differ from that of a nominative/accusative language? In this talk I propose answers to both questions. Diachronically, I propose that the Algonquian direct/inverse system arose when a gap in an innovative paradigm of verb inflection was filled by the analogical extension of an agreement pattern that was previously dedicated to passive forms. Synchronically, I propose that the direct/inverse pattern reflects the interaction of an object-agreement probe on the Voice head and an "omnivorous" probe on the Infl head. This analysis, formalized using Deal's (2015) interaction-and-satisfaction model of the Agree operation, provides an elegant account of twelve different distributions of inverse marking across the Algonquian family. These proposals allow the Algonquian system to be integrated more closely into standard typological categories and formal analyses rather than standing as a type of its own. Given the prototypical status accorded to Algonquian in typological and theoretical discussions of direct/inverse marking, the fact that the Algonquian system dissolves into simpler and less unusual parts suggests that a degree of skepticism may be in order for putative direct/inverse systems in other language families as well.
14 Jan, Holly Kennard, University of Oxford, UK 9:00 AM Zoom
"The adaptation of loanwords in Breton: stress, gender and morphophonology".
Loanwords are inescapable in Breton, which is unsurprising given its status as a minority language, and centuries of contact with the prestige variety, French. Decades of language decline followed by more recent revitalisation means that today there are two main groups of speakers: older, traditional speakers who grew up speaking Breton at home; and younger 'new' speakers, who have acquired the language largely through formal education.
As borrowing a word involves adapting it to the phonology and morphology of the receiving language, loanwords in Breton must be assigned a stress pattern and grammatical gender, and be integrated into the morphophonology. Patterns of loanword adaptation may be predictable, but equally may not: for example, koěkombr ‘cucumbers’, borrowed from French concombre ‘cucumber’, is a collective noun rather than a singular. The form kokoěmbrez also exists with a collective meaning, and the singular kokombreězenn is built on this. As a result, the stress pattern for this word not only differs from that of French, but is also different in the singular and the plural, which has consequences for gender and mutation. This picture is further complicated by the sociolinguistic context in which Breton is spoken, with claims that younger Breton speakers avoid loanwords from French in favour of more 'Celtic' equivalents.
In this talk I examine data from both older and younger Breton speakers and investigate how they treat loanwords from French with a particular focus on stress, grammatical gender, and morphological processes. The patterns of language use are complex; however, I find that loanwords are less likely to be adapted to Breton stress than to its morphophonology, which perhaps reflects both the different stress patterns that can be observed in Breton, and the variability in stress usage among the younger Breton speakers.
- February 18th: Christian Di Casio, University of Buffalo (3:00 PM, In-person)
- March 18th: Marianne Mithun, UC Santa Barbara (3:00 PM, In-person)
- April 1st: Damian Blasi, Harvard University (3:00 PM In-person)
- April 15th: Timo Roettger, University of Oslo (9:00 AM, Zoom)
- April 29th: Suzi Oliveira de Lima, University of Toronto (3:00 PM, Zoom)