Archive for the ‘Groups’ Category

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.

SMircle Monday (10/13) at 3:15 PM: Baier

Join the SMircle workshop as they hear from Nico Baier (UC Berkeley), who will be presenting his work on adjectives in Noon (Senegal) on October 13, 3.15pm in the Greenberg Room.

Adjective Agreement in Noon: Evidence for a Split Theory of Noun-Modifier Concord

In this paper, I argue that two distinct mechanisms are needed to account for the pattern of noun-adjective agreement in Noon (Cangin, Senegal). Adjectives in Noon exhibit two types of agreement. First, they take a prefix that encodes the class and number of the noun they modify. Second, attributive adjectives must agree in definiteness with the noun they modify. Nouns and adjectives take an identical definiteness suffix that marks by a suffix on the the head noun’s class/number along with three degrees of deixis. The class/number prefix is obligatory for both attributive and predicative adjectives, while the definiteness suffix is available only for attributive adjectives. Previous work presupposes that the same mechanism derives noun-modifier agreement (concord) and argument-predicate agreement: usually a modified version of Chomsky’s (2001) Agree. However, others have argued that noun-modifier agreement is morphological in nature and should be derived post-syntactically (Norris 2014). Here, I argue for a split approach: prefixal agreement on Noon adjectives is derived by valuation of Phi-probe on a, while another is derived via a post-syntactic process of Feature Copying.

P-Interest Workshop Meeting today at noon

Join the P-Interest group today (10/3) at noon in the Greenberg Room, where Sunwoo Jeong will present the results of her first QP, “Iconicity in Suprasegmental Variables: The Case of Archetypal Hollywood Characters of the 1940s-50s”. Abstract:

Films are potent vehicles that not only reflect common linguistic practices, but also create new social meanings for linguistic variables and actively shape dominant language ideologies of the era. This was especially the case for films made during the Golden Age of Hollywood in which several distinctive film genres, featuring highly stylized female characters, emerged as important cultural phenomena: femme fatales in film noir, independent brunettes in screwball comedies, and dumb blondes in musical comedies. This paper argues that systematic variation in suprasegmental linguistic cues like pitch, prosody, and voice quality was employed by the actresses to index the three prominent archetypes mentioned above, and more importantly, that the realizations of these variables were not arbitrary in that they created an iconic tie with the archetype that they indexed. Combined with other cinematic devices that fortified this iconic relation, the underlying ideologies behind these linguistic variables were more easily naturalized, resulting in wider dissemination.

The supporting evidence for this argument comes from an in-depth analysis of pitch and voice quality variables of the three archetypes in 15 films. Actresses and films that were highly representative of each archetype/film genre (e.g. Barbara Stanwyck as an iconic femme fatale), as well as actresses that portray multiple archetypes across different films (e.g. Marilyn Monroe as a dumb blonde in Gentlemen Prefer Blondesvs. a femme fatale in Niagara) were maximally chosen. Utterances with no background noise were exhaustively extracted from each film, and relevant acoustic features (maximum F0, minimum F0, F0 standard deviation of each utterance and H1-H2 of each vowel) were measured.

A series of mixed effects models shows that the dumb blonde is characterized by significantly higher pitch, higher F0 standard deviation, and breathy voice; the femme fatale by lower pitch, lower F0 standard deviation and breathy voice; and the independent brunette by lower pitch, higher F0 standard deviation and modal to creaky voice. Such systematic stylistic differentiation is reliably observed both within a single actress portraying different archetypes and also across multiple actresses, demonstrating that the variation is transparently realized both at the level of intra-speaker and inter-speaker variation.

Crucially, the quantitative analyses mentioned above combined with qualitative analyses of pitch contours and spectrograms, show that the variables iconically represent the archetypes themselves. For example, the femme fatale resorts to intensity rather than pitch variation to convey emphasis (although pitch is typically the most prominent linguistic cue for stress), and this usage of non-normative acoustic cues reflects her transgressive character. Also, her strikingly monotonous and horizontal intonational contour without a natural declination pattern iconically reflects her composed, unperturbed nature and strengthens the angular compositions and somber, monochromatic imagery of the film noir. Linguistic variation is situated within the broader semiotic system of the film, and the implicit ideological message it conveys is fortified by the film’s imagery, facilitating its propagation as easily accessible stylistic resources.

Meaningful Lunch Tuesday (9/30) at 11:45 AM

Everyone with an interest in semantics is invited to Meaningful Lunch — an intermittent informal lunch meeting for all those at Stanford working on or interested in the study of natural language meaning, broadly construed!

The main purpose of these lunches is to keep everyone informed about current or nascent semantic-y research that is going on, scout out possibilities for collaboration, learn about plans of semantics-related events for the academic year, and generally have a good time in the company of your fellow meaning-folks.

This quarter’s lunch will take place on Tuesday, September 30, from 11:45am-12:50pm in Room 126 on the ground floor of Margaret Jacks Hall. Lunch will be provided.

Do come for some or all of that time!