Archive for the ‘Grads’ Category

Dissertation oral Monday, November 3: Djalali

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce a dissertation oral presentation by Alex Djalali:
On adjectival comparatives Monday, November 3, 2014, 2pm-3:15pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Rm 126

The syntax and semantics of adjectival comparatives like (1a) are complicated matters that have concerned both syntacticians and semanticists for at least 100 years.

(1) a. Orcutt is taller than Smith (is)
(1) b. The maximal degree of height Orcutt possesses is greater than the maximal degree of height Smith possesses

It is generally agreed that (1a) is a suitable paraphrase of the meaning of (1b), which suggests, both implicitly and explicitly, that any formal syntactico-semantic analysis of adjectival comparatives should make reference to (at least) the notions of degrees, scales, and measures. The path I will pursue in this dissertation takes each of the aforementioned concepts seriously but moves away from standardly assumed degree-based analyses like Seuren (1973), von Stechow (1984), Heim (1985), Kennedy (1997) and Heim (2006) (to name just a few) to a more Cresswellilan-one (Cresswell 1976).

This might seem odd, if only because recent work like Kennedy (1997) can also be understood in a Cresswellilan-light. However, there are many aspects of Cresswell’s (1976) proposal–philosophical and formal–and in the work presented here, degrees themselves will not be understood as proper objects in my semantic ontology. If degrees exist at all, they will be understood as real numbers necessary only when considering a small sub-class of comparative constructions. I will argue that, in making such a move, one gets a better and more general treatment of the syntax and semantics of adjectival comparatives in the form of, what I take to be at least, a transparent albeit Spartan semantic representation language that makes no use of various misbehaved covert operators at the level of logical form that are traditionally present in the various semantic analysis of adjectival comparatives considered here. I will show that, even under the assumption of such minimal representations, my analysis gets the semantic facts involving adjectival comparatives right.

(The format for this open part of the oral exam is a 30-45 minute talk by the PhD candidate followed by questions from those attending, for a total of no more than 75 minutes.   Please arrive promptly!)

Oral exam committee: Cleo Condoravdi and Chris Potts (Co-advisors), Dan Lassiter, Beth Levin
University oral exam chair: Thomas Icard (Philosophy)

Welcome New Grad Students!

We have a new class of very talented grad students this fall! Here are their photos and self-descriptions (as of last spring). Please join us in welcoming them to the department!


Ignacio Cases (University at Albany, State University of New York)

Since I was a kid I have been passionate about Mesoamerican languages, writing systems, and ancient astronomy, shared with an enthusiasm for artificial intelligence and computers. At SUNY Albany, I got an MA in Anthropological Linguistics developing computational methods applied to Maya hieroglyphic writing. My current interests are centered in computational linguistics approaches to historical sociolinguistics within Mesoamerican languages, with special attention to language contact and variation and language modeling. I have worked in several sites in the Maya area, serving at the moment as co-epigrapher in the archaeological project Peten Norte-Naachtun in the Guatemalan rainforest.

Matt Lamm (Columbia University)

I grew up in New York, and went on to do my undergraduate studies in Math and South Asian Philology at Columbia. I’ve just about completed a two-year Masters at Oxford, where I’ve worked on a range of things: formal semantics, computational linguistics, language acquisition, and queer theory, to name a few. I’m looking forward to joining the department at Stanford, where I hope to explore an overwhelming number of things, like computational models of sentiment and other hypernetwork-scale discursive patterns, some computational historical Indo-Aryan, and even some continued language and gender theory. Outside of work, I talk about literature incessantly, and spend all the extra time I can get reading and writing. (My current favorite place in the UK is the National Gallery.)

Zachary Wilkins (Case Western Reserve University)

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, I received my B.A. from the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Case Western Reserve University, with a minor in mathematics. I am currently finishing my M.A. thesis in the Department of Linguistics at the University of North Carolina, for which I designed an experiment to look at pragmatic comprehension of tautologies in adults and children. I have lived just under two years in South America, and empirically I am most interested in Spanish and Guaraní and how the two languages interact in the region. Before starting my PhD at Stanford this fall, I will be on fellowship to live in Asunción, Paraguay and continue my studies of the Guaraní language. At Stanford I hope to continue to work on pragmatics and language acquisition, as well as develop broad knowledge of computational linguistics, especially models that address how people construct meaning in context. When I’m not doing linguistics, I’m discovering good restaurants with good people, jumping on the latest tech craze or enjoying Argentine food and culture.

Ciyang Qing (University of Amsterdam)

I am from Nanning, the “Green City” in southern China. I did my undergraduate study in Information and Computing Science at Peking University and I am now a Master of Logic student at the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC), University of Amsterdam. My main research interest is in computational experimental semantics/pragmatics. I want to understand how we use language to interact with each other, and ultimately use this knowledge to build smarter machines. My non-academic interests include fantasy, games (both board and digital), food and music.

Rob Voigt (Vassar College)

Coming from a background in Chinese literary and cultural studies, I got into computational linguistics during my M.A. here at Stanford, and haven’t looked back since! In general I’m interested in applying computational methods to questions of social meaning and sociolinguistic variation. Most recently, I’ve been working with video data to better understand the relationship between body movement, emotiveness, and acoustic prosody. Random life items: from Washington D.C.; love playing and listening to all kinds of music (let’s jam); will never turn down an invitation to sushi.

Robert Xu (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)

Originally from Zhuhai, China, I received my B.A. from Wuhan University and M.A./M.Phil. from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Currently I am interested in prosodic variations in speech perception. Additional interests include the prosody-semantic interface, the bilingual lexicon, and forensic phonetics. Outside of linguistics, I enjoy theater, music, comedy, and seeing fossils in museums.

Congratulations to our graduates!

The Stanford Linguistics Department will hold its graduation ceremony for 2014 this Sunday, June 15 at 12:30 in the area between Cubberly and Green Library (near the fountain). Everyone in the department is welcome to come to this happy occasion.

Congratulations to those being celebrated in this year’s ceremony!

Ph.D.
Eric Kenneth Acton
Roey J. Gafter
Kate Geenberg
Jessica Danielle Spencer

Bachelor of Arts
Christopher Douglas Frederick
Cameron Wayne Jeffers

Bachelor of Arts with Honors
Benjamin Lokshin
Hanzhi Zhu

Dissertation Oral Presentation Monday (6/16): Jessica Spencer

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce a dissertation oral presentation:

Stochastic effects in the grammar: Toward a usage-based model of copula contraction

Jessica Spencer

Monday, June 16, 2014, 1pm-2:15pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Rm 126

Abstract: The aim of this analysis of conversational English corpus data is to unearth stable effects of phonological, syntactic, and frequency information in an area of the grammar prone to variation: copula contraction. Stable effects arise during active language processing and may be contrasted with the products of diachronic coalescence of several forms into fused units. Researchers have found that English auxiliary contraction (have > ‘ve, has > ‘s, be > ‘m/’re/’s, will/shall > ‘ll) is subject to phonological, processing, and grammatical constraints. These constraints are most evident in the study of the copula, as “to be” contracts with a wider range of hosts, or preceding words, i.e., with pronominal and lexical noun phrase hosts. My analysis reveals three novel findings about copula contraction. First, copula contraction is sensitive to both the collocational frequency of the copula and its host and the copula and the following word. This obtains even when lexical noun phrase hosts (as opposed to pronominal hosts) are considered in light of known grammatical constraints. The more frequent the host or the following word, the more likely the copula is to contract. Second, persistence, or the previous use of a particular form is a strong predictor of whether or not a speaker is likely to contract. Finally, copula duration shows a sensitivity to the same syntactic constraints that condition contraction. These facts taken together present of picture of copula contraction whereby an allomorphic disticntion and a phonetic feature both show sensitivity to information across all levels of the grammar.

(The format for this open part of the oral exam is a 30-45 minute talk by the PhD candidate followed by questions from those attending, for a total of no more than 75 minutes. Please arrive promptly!)

Oral exam committee: John Rickford (Advisor), Arto Anttila, Tom Wasow, Penny Eckert
University oral exam chair: Ewart Thomas (Psychology)

Dissertation Oral Presentation Tuesday (6/17): Eric Acton

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce a dissertation oral presentation:

Pragmatics and the social meaning of determiners

Eric Acton

Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 1pm-2:15pm
Margaret Jacks Hall, Rm 126

Abstract: Language users draw all kinds of inferences concerning the opinions, moods, backgrounds, and social relations of speakers on the basis of what they say, and much of what is conveyed depends only indirectly, if at all, on the literal content of what is said. Though meaning beyond the literal comprises a hefty and potent share of linguistic meaning, much remains to be uncovered and explained as regards this domain. In this work, I examine aspects of the socio-expressive significance of English demonstratives (this, that, these, those) and the article the. Via semantic, pragmatic, and variationist analysis, I show that these seemingly colorless expressions can in fact reflect and shape the nature of a speaker’s social relations.

In particular, I provide quantitative and qualitative evidence that (i) in referring to a group of people, using the (‘the Americans’) as opposed to a bare plural (‘Americans’) tends to depict the group as a monolith of which the speaker is not a part; and, drawing on previous research, (ii) demonstratives can serve as a linguistic resource for expressing exclamativity and evaluativity (e.g., Lakoff, 1974; Bowdle & Ward, 1995; Wolter, 2006; Davis & Potts, 2010; Potts & Schwarz, 2010) and for promoting a sense of shared perspective and experience between interlocutors (e.g., Lakoff, 1974; Chen, 1990; Wolter, 2006; Acton & Potts, 2014). In both cases, I show that the observed social effects can be explained from a broadly pragmatic perspective, by considering what a speaker says in light of the context of utterance and the semantics of alternative expressions she might have employed instead.

Taking all of this together, this work provides new insights into the social character of English determiners, makes the case that socio-expressive content is an indispensable facet of meaning and usage, and demonstrates the advantages of pursuing semantic, pragmatic, and sociolinguistic research in tandem.

(The format for this open part of the oral exam is a 30-45 minute talk by the PhD candidate followed by questions from those attending, for a total of no more than 75 minutes. Please arrive promptly!)

Oral exam committee: Penny Eckert and Chris Potts (Co-advisors), Dan Lassiter, Rob Podesva
University oral exam chair: Ewart Thomas (Psychology)

Dissertation Oral Presentation Friday (6/20): Roey Gafter

The Department of Linguistics is pleased to announce a dissertation oral presentation:

“The Most Beautiful and Correct Hebrew”: Authenticity, Ethnic Identity and Linguistic Variation in the Greater Tel Aviv Area

Roey Gafter

Friday, June 20, 2014, 10am-11:15am
Margaret Jacks Hall, Rm 126

Abstract: Among Israelis, Jewish ethnicity is usually understood as a dichotomy between Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of European descent) and Mizrahi Jews (Jews of Middle Eastern descent). While this distinction is extremely socially salient in Israel, little is known about how these categories related to linguistic variation. In this dissertation, I explore the interaction of Hebrew phonetic variables with ethnicity, and show that the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi binary hides many meaningful distinctions, both linguistically and socially. I challenge the notion of an ethnolect, and claim that while there is no single distinctive “Mizrahi Hebrew”, certain linguistic features are associated with particular aspects of a Mizrahi identity, and can be used in the construction of specific ethnic personae.

My main source of data is sociolinguistic fieldwork in two field sites in the greater Tel Aviv area, which have decidedly different Mizrahi populations: the first is Rosh Ha’ayin, a town whose population is predominantly Yemenite (often described as “the most Mizrahi Mizrahis”). The second is Tel Aviv proper, which has an extremely mixed population. I analyze two consonantal features: the first, pharyngealization, is the feature most stereotypically associated with Mizrahis, but all extant research suggests that it has been lost in the speech of most contemporary Israelis. I demonstrate that contrary to received wisdom, there are still some younger Mizrahis in my sample with robust pharyngealization, but only among the Yemenites of Rosh Ha’ayin, who express overt language ideologies about the link between this conservative linguistic feature and an authentic Yemenite identity. And while pharyngealization is very uncommon among most younger Mizrahis, I show that it is enregistered as a Mizrahi feature, and that Mizrahis who do not consistently pharyngealize, still do so when performing attributes associated with a stereotypical Mizrahi persona (such as being down-to-earth and authentic).

This insight also applies to another variable I research, /h/-deletion, which is stigmatized as sounding uneducated and unintelligent. I demonstrate that [h] in Hebrew actually varies between three productions – produced, deleted and replaced with a glottal stop. There was no significant interaction between this variable and ethnicity in the Tel Aviv sample, but while the social meaning of /h/ is not directly linked to ethnicity, it can combine with pharyngeals in constructing a consistent style: the Yemenites of Rosh Ha’ayin use more fully articulated [h] and less glottal stop, once again overtly linking this variable with the notion of the most authentic variety of Hebrew.

Taken together, both variables highlight the importance of moving beyond binary distinctions when trying to understand how language and ethnicity interact – on the social level, a more nuanced understanding of ethnic identity is needed since the linguistic behavior of Mizrahis cannot be explained simply in terms of “sounding more or less Ashkenazi”. On the linguistic level, features usually considered as categorically present or not, reveal more complicated patterns upon careful inspection.

(The format for this open part of the oral exam is a 30-45 minute talk by the PhD candidate followed by questions from those attending, for a total of no more than 75 minutes. Please arrive promptly!)

Oral exam committee: Penny Eckert and John Rickford (Co-advisors), Rob Podesva, Meghan Sumner
University oral exam chair: H. Samy Alim (Education)