Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Psycholinguistics Group Meeting Thursday (1/29) at 4PM: Levy

Roger Levy will also speak at the Psycholinguistics Group meeting next Thursday at 4PM in the Greenberg Room.

Is grammatical knowledge probabilistic? Theory and evidence

Since the advent of generative grammar, the dominant characterization of human grammatical knowledge has been as categorical: a collection of rules or constraints determining the sentences in the language. Yet the same tradition has long recognized that acceptability judgments are graded. In this talk I take up the proposal that the reason for this gradedness is that grammatical knowledge is not categorical, but fundamentally probabilistic. Despite the recent proliferation of probabilistic methods in linguistics and related fields, this proposal remains controversial: on a skeptical view, perhaps probability is not part of grammatical knowledge per se, but simply proxies for extra-linguistic knowledge and describes inference under uncertainty in acquisition and processing. Here I argue that the classic criteria of descriptive and explanatory adequacy point towards a role for probability in grammar. I provide new evidence that a key constraint on syntactic coordination, the preference for like conjuncts, cannot be stated in categorical terms that are empirically valid, but has extensive coverage and support when stated probabilistically. When combined with previously adduced theory and data, this work yields the strongest case to date that at least some central components of grammatical knowledge are fundamentally probabilistic.

P-Interest Workshop Meeting Today (1/23) at Noon

Join the P-Interest Workshop Meeting today at noon in the Greenberg Room, as they discuss Daniel Silverman’s 2012 book, Neutralization: Rhyme and Reason in Phonology.

From the book:
The function of language is to transmit information from speakers to listeners. This book investigates an aspect of linguistic sound patterning that has traditionally been assumed to interfere with this function – neutralization, a conditioned limitation on the distribution of a language’s contrastive values. The book provides in-depth, nuanced and critical analyses of many theoretical approaches to neutralization in phonology and argues for a strictly functional characterization of the term: neutralizing alternations are only function-negative to the extent that they derive homophones, and most surprisingly, neutralization is often function-positive, by serving as an aid to parsing. Daniel Silverman encourages the reader to challenge received notions by carefully considering these functional consequences of neutralization.

2015 SemFest coming up, and call for abstracts

Mark your calendars! The Sixteenth Annual Stanford Semantics Fest will be held on the afternoon of Friday, March 13.

The Semantics Fest is intended to promote discussion and collaboration among all those in the Stanford community interested in the semantics and pragmatics of natural language, as well as their interface with other modules of grammar. We encourage contributions from all those who are participants in Linguistics Department semantics or pragmatics events or members of the Stanford University community who share these interests.

Abstracts are invited for 20 minute talks (plus 10 minutes of discussion) on any topic touching on semantics and pragmatics in natural language. All abstracts should be submitted as plain text or pdf in 12 point font and be no more than 1 page long; a second page may include references. Abstracts are due by 5pm on Friday, February 6th, 2015. All submissions should be emailed to Sara Kessler, Notification of acceptance will be made about two weeks later.

Berkeley Workshop on ‘Speech Acts and Propositions’ (1/31)

Attention linguists! UC Berkeley is hosting a workshop on ‘The Action-Product Distinction and Its Importance for Speech Act Theory and Social Ontology’ on Saturday, January 31, 2015, from 10:00AM to 6:45PM.

The schedule is given below. Attendance is free but please register with Maura Vrydaghs at


10.00 – 11.45: Pranav Anand (UCSC): ‘A Factive Split in Reporting Beliefs and Assertions’
11.45 – 12.00: Coffee
12.00 – 1.45: Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford): ‘Assertions, Declarations and Explicit Performatives’

1.45 – 3.00: Lunch

3.00 – 4.45: John Searle (Berkeley): ‘What is a Proposition?’
4.45 – 5.00: Coffee
5.00 – 6.45: Friederike Moltmann (CNRS-IHPST / NYU): ‘Cognitive, Illocutionary, and Modal Products’

Look Who’s Talking!

Dan Lassiter will present “Adjectival vagueness in a Bayesian Model of Interpretation” at UCSD’s Cognitive Science 200 speaker series on Friday 1/23, and also at a UCLA Linguistics colloquium the following Friday.

P-Interest Workshop Meeting Today (1/08) at Noon

Join the P-Interest workshop as they hold a planning meeting at noon in the Greenberg Room. All are welcome!

Janet Pierrehumbert at Cognition & Language Workshop Thursday (1/15) at 4PM

The Cognition & Language Workshop is excited to announce that Janet Pierrehumbert will be presenting for the group next Thursday in the Greenberg Room.


Abstract:Language systems are highly structured. Yet language learners still encounter inconsistent input. Variation is found both across speakers, and within the productions of individual speakers. If learners reproduced all the variation in the input they received, language systems would not be so highly structured. Instead, all variation across speakers in a community would eventually be picked up and reproduced by every individual in the community. Explaining the empirically observed level of regularity in languages requires a theory of regularization as a cognitive process.

This talk will present experimental and computational results on regularization. The experiments are artificial language learning experiments using a novel game-like computer interface. The model introduces a novel mathematical treatment of the nonlinear decision process linking input to output in language learning. Together, the results indicate that:
– The nonlinearity involved in regularization is sufficiently weak that it can be detected at the micro level (the level of individual experiments) only with very good statistical power.
– Individual differences in the degree and direction of regularization are considerable.
– Individual differences, as they interact with social connections, play a major role in determining which patterns become entrenched as linguistic norms and which don’t in the course of language change.

LSA practice talks rescheduled for Monday Dec. 15

We have a large number of student talks at the upcoming LSA annual meeting. We had one practice talk session on Wednesday, but Thursday’s scheduled talks were canceled due to inclement weather. Please join us for a makeup session on Monday December 15, 10AM-12:30PM in the Greenberg Room. 

  • Robin Melnick On the Time-Course of Discourse Linking: Experiments with Wh-In-Situ Islands
  • Robin Melnick and Eric Acton Function Words, Opposition, and Power: A socio-pragmatic “deep” corpus study
  • Kevin McGowan and Meghan Sumner A Phonetic Explanation for the Usefulness of Within-Category Variation
  • Prerna Nadathur Towards an Explanatory Account of Conditional Perfection
  • Masoud Jasbi The Semantics of Differential Object Marking in Persian