Colloquium Today (10/15) at 3:30 PM: Alan Prince

Join us in the Greenberg Room today as we welcome Alan Prince (Rutgers) for a colloquium. His abstract is given below, as well as a link to a PDF version of the abstract which includes additional figures. The talk will be followed by a social and dinner.

Testing the boundaries: aspects of typological structure in OT

The formal typology is perhaps the central object of modern linguistics, where formal typology = the set of all grammars admitted by the premises of a theory. In OT, this object is both self-consciously placed in the foreground and amenable to study.

A formal typology classifies grammars in terms of the inner mechanisms of its theory. In OT, a typology classifies grammars in terms of shared and distinguishing ranking patterns (Alber & Prince) that collectively combine to give the entire set of grammars in the typology. What these are, and may be, depends on the structure of the typology (Merchant & Prince).

Typological structure in OT involves both geometry and order. A notion of adjacency between grammars leads to the ‘typohedron’ of a typology, where each grammar is represented by a single vertex. Adjacency comes from the linear orders (‘rankings’) that grammars consist of. Basic classification involves sets of grammars that are geometrically adjacent in this sense. Because of the way constraint ranking selects optima, order and equivalence relations between entire grammars, grounded in the geometry, also emerge. Basic classification respects these relations as well. (In Merchant & Prince, they are represented by the MOAT — ‘mother of all tableaux’ — which contains the essential OT properties of each constraint.) Both aspects of structure are representable graphically in ways that render them quite accessible (see PDF version).
The logic of OT ranking leads to two further developments that build from the basic structural elements. (1) Ranking properties may take limited scope, so that in grammars outside the scope of a property, certain distinctions are moot. This follows from the fact that constraints need not be crucially ranked with respect to each other in every grammar. (2) Constraints belong to classes as well, based on the symmetries of their ranking behavior. Constraints must often have an atomic character, but their behavior may echo that of symmetrical partners operating in distal regions of the typology.

Find the augmented abstract pdf here.

SMircle Workshop Meeting Monday (10/20) at 3:15PM: Lahousse

Come join the SMircle Workshop on Monday in the Greenberg Room as they welcome Karen Lahousse (KU Leuven) who will discuss her work on verb-subject inversion in French. Her title and abstract are given below.

New arguments in favor of a low analysis for verb-subject inversion in French: on the interplay between syntax and information structure


Verb-nominal subject inversion in French (VS) is subject to a range of constraints having to do with (i) the syntactic structure of the configuration, including the position of the postverbal subject and the way in which (whatever formulation of) EPP is satisfied, (ii) the type of licensing contexts of VS and (iii) the information-structural status of the postverbal subject and the whole construction. Although any account of VS should incorporate these three issues, previous formal-syntactic analyses have concentrated on (i) alone.
In this talk I will present new evidence in favor of the classical ‘low’ analysis for VS (with S being in a low vP internal position, and the V raised lefward past it), and show how the licensing contexts of VS are determined by general information-structural principles interacting with the postverbal subject’s interpretation. Surprisingly, the same licensing contexts hold for impersonal passive constructions, and, thus, seem to be related to the formulation of EPP. A consequence of my proposal is that French VS word order is not radically different from VS in Italian, a welcome conclusion in the light of recent analyses having challenged the pro-drop parameter (which involves a radical distinction between French on the one hand, and Spanish and Italian on the other hand). I will also speculate on the difference between written French, where VS typically occurs, and spoken French, where this is not the case.

Sociolunch Wednesday (10/22), 11:45: NWAV Practice Talks

It’s time for NWAV practice talks at Sociolunch! Come by the Greenberg Room from 11:45-1 on Wednesday 10/22. All are welcome!

Cognition & Language Workshop Thursday (10/23) at 4PM: Davidson

Join the Cognition & Language Workshop next Thursday at 4 in the Greenberg Room, where Kathryn Davidson (Yale) will speak about iconicity in signed language and beyond!

CAN YOU QUOTE AN ACTION? Iconic event descriptions in signing, speech, gesture, and writing

Sometimes form-meaning mappings in language are not arbitrary, but iconic: they depict aspects of what they describe. Incorporating iconic elements of language into a compositional semantics faces a number of challenges. In this talk I will compare the iconicity found in written language quotation with another form of iconicity common in sign languages: classifier predicates. I argue that these two types of verbal iconicity can, and should, incorporate their iconic components in the same way as (neo-Davidsonian) event modification via context dependent demonstration (Clark and Gerrig 1990). This unified account of quotation and classifier predicates predicts that a language might use the same strategy for conveying both, and I argue that this is the case with role shift in American Sign Language, which can be used both to demonstrate others’ actions and language (Engberg-Pedersen 1993, Lillo-Martin 1995, Schlenker 2014). Throughout, sign languages provide a fruitful perspective for studying quotation and other iconic language due to (i) the rich existing literature on iconicity in sign language linguistics, (ii) the ability of role shift to overtly mark the scope of a demonstration and (iii) their lack of a commonly used writing system which is often mistaken as primary data instead of speech and co-speech gesture in the study of iconic language.

Construction of Meaning Workshop Next Friday (10/24) at 3:30 PM: Scontras

Next Friday (October 24) at 3:30 in the Greenberg Room, Greg Scontras (Stanford Psychology) will be present at the Construction of Meaning Workshop.

A new kind of degree


In this talk, I present a case study of the English noun amount, a word that ostensibly relies on measurement in its semantics, yet stands apart from other quantizing nouns on the basis of its EXISTENTIAL interpretation. John ate the amount of apples that Bill ate does not mean John and Bill ate the same apples, but rather that they each ate apples in the same quantity. Amount makes reference to abstract representations of measurement, that is, to degrees. Its EXISTENTIAL interpretation evidences the fact that degrees contain information about the objects that instantiate them. Outside the domain of nominal measurement, the noun kind exhibits behavior strikingly similar to that of amount; both yield an EXISTENTIAL interpretation (Carlson, 1977). This observation motivates re-conceiving of degrees as nominalized quantity-uniform properties – the same sort of entity as kinds. Thus, the semantic machinery handling kinds also handles degrees (e.g., Derived Kind Predication; Chierchia, 1998): As nominalized properties, degrees are instantiated by objects that hold the corresponding property; when instantiated by real-world objects, degrees (and kinds) deliver the EXISTENTIAL interpretation.

Jurafsky book soars to new heights!

Dan Jurafsky’s “craving for culinary wordplay” has earned The Language of Food a piece in the most recent issue of American Airlines’ in-flight magazine. Fortunately AA has made the article available to us earth-bound folks too: read it here. No word yet on how the book’s power to “leave taste buds tempted and their intellects fully nourished” has influenced passengers’ impressions of airplane food.

(Thanks to Tania Rojas-Esponda for the tip-off!)

Look Who’s Talking!

Tania Rojas-Esponda presented to the Artificial Intelligence Research group at Facebook, to the QiD Workshop in Goettingen (University of Potsdam), and gave a talk at Google to the Machine Learning Group this week.

Nicholas Moores gave a talk at Bing Nursery School on his masters thesis work, Children’s Learned Associations with Voice: Perspectives on Children’s Speech Perception in Language Acquisition.

Loads of Stanford linguists will be presenting at NWAV 43 next week at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign:

  • Teresa Pratt and Annette D’Onofrio will present “Awareness in enregisterment: Performances of the California Vowel Shift in SNL’s The Californians“.
  • Robert Podesva, Penny Eckert, Julia Fine, Katherine Hilton, Sunwoo Jeong, and Sharese King will present “Social Influences on the Degree of Stop Voicing in Inland California”.
  • Penny Eckert will present “Stylistic Innovation and Indexical Obsolescence”.
  • Lelia Glass will present on “Need to vs. have to and got to: A corpus study in semantic variation”.
  • Jeremy Calder will present on “‘Let’s talk about Reading!’: The role of rhythm in drag queen ritual insult“.
  • Annette D’Onofrio will present on “Persona-based information and automatic linguistic perception: Evidence from TRAP-backing”.
  • Patrick Callier will present on “What does the linguistic environment contribute to social meaning?”.