Author Archive

Construction of Meaning Workshop Today (11/21) at 3:30PM: Bumford

The Construction of Meaning Workshop presents:

Incremental quantification and the dynamics of pair-list phenomena

Dylan Bumford
New York University

Friday, November 21, 2014, 3:30pm, Margaret Jacks Hall, Rm. 126

Abstract:
Distributive universals are unique among natural language quantifiers in the following three ways: (i) matrix interrogatives that contain them accept pair-list answers; (ii) indefinites and disjunctions in their scope may assume “arbitrary functional” readings; and (iii) they permit sentence-internal interpretations of a wide range of comparative adjectives, like ‘new’ and ‘different’. Because other quantifiers in the same environments do not give rise to these interpretations, the constructions provide a window into the semantic processes that support quantificational distributivity. In fact, both pair-list and internal readings have been independently argued to expose some of the compositional clockwork behind universal quantification, but the mechanisms they have been taken to reveal are entirely distinct. In contrast, I’ll propose that pair-list phenomena and internal readings of comparative adjectives are two sides of the same coin; they are both side effects of incremental quantification. To make this precise, I’ll analyze distributive universal quantifiers in terms of iterated, incremental update, in effect generalizing the sequential conjunction operator of standard dynamic semantics. This approach captures the tight empirical connection between pair-lists and internal adjectives, and at the same time provides a simpler and more robust account of the data than some of the specialized alternatives.

Cognition & Language Workshop Thursday 12/4: Maryellen MacDonald

The Cognition & Language Workshop is pleased to announce the following talk, which will take place in the Greenberg Room on Thursday Dec 4 at 4pm.

NULL SUBJECTS, BARE PASSIVES, AND MEMORY INTERFERENCE IN LANGUAGE PRODUCTION

Maryellen MacDonald (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Utterance planning is the part of language production that converts an idea into an ordered sequence for articulation.  I’ll argue that this process has certain properties that create systematic biases in speakers’ unconscious choices of sentence structures.  For example, utterance planning has inherent memory demands, and the representation of the intended sentence can degrade in memory when similar parts of the utterance plan interfere with each other.  This memory interference increases production difficulty, and speakers reduce interference by adopting sentence structures that let them omit or delay interfering elements.  I’ll present data from corpora and production experiments linking memory interference to two omission phenomena, rates of null subjects in Mandarin and use of bare passives (omitting the agent) in six languages. These and other results suggest that the nature of utterance planning has an explanatory role in accounting for the distribution of syntactic structures in a language.  I’ll point to potential consequences for language comprehension, acquisition, and typology.

Look Who’s Talking!

Nicholas Moores, Kevin McGowan, Meghan Sumner, and Michael Frank will be presenting “Children Use Phonetically-Cued Talker Information to Disambiguate Similar Objects” at Psychonomics 2014 in Long Beach this weekend.