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

Today (October 24) at 3:30 in the Greenberg Room, Greg Scontras (Stanford Psychology) will speak at the Construction of Meaning Workshop. The talk will be followed by a Friday social.

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.

Colloquium Next Friday (10/31) at 3:30PM: Campbell-Kibler

Our next colloquium speaker will be Kathryn Campbell-Kibler (Ohio State), at 3:30PM on Wed, Oct 31 in the Greenberg room.

Reducing sociolinguistic cognition to previously unsolved problems

More than half a century of research in language variation and related fields has documented speakers’ ability to alter small details of their speech to conform to or agentively change the social elements of an interaction. Likewise, listeners are able to note these speech patterns and use them to form or change their social reading of a situation. These abilities apply both to linguistic forms speakers can verbally describe or even manipulate on command, and to those they cannot. In this talk I discuss the cognitive structures necessary to accomplish these feats. I consider the history of the sociolinguistic monitor, variation’s most developed model, and discuss its shortcomings in light of current evidence. I propose that sociolinguistic cognition requires no specialized cognitive machinery, rather its patterns are explainable by independently motivated structures of linguistic and social cognition and their interactions. Given that linguistic and social processing are both as yet not fully understood, the study of sociolinguistic cognition can help illuminate their structure by examining their interactions. To do so successfully, both the linguistic and the social must be centered.

Berkeley Colloquium Monday (10/27) at 3:10PM: Epps

Next Monday at 3:10PM, The UC Berkeley Department of Linguistics presents a colloquium by Patience L. Epps (UT Austin). The talk will take place in 370 Dwinelle Hall on the Berkeley campus.

Contact and diversity: Tracing multilingual interaction in Amazonian prehistory

While efforts to understand global patterns of linguistic diversity have explored a wide range of nonlinguistic correlates, associations with sociocultural patterns have generally tended to assume a correspondence between linguistic diversity and a lack of contact among groups. In this talk, I develop the hypothesis that the maintenance of extensive linguistic diversity in the Amazon basin has in fact been widely grounded in the dynamics of interaction among groups, as opposed to being simply a factor of isolation (Epps forthcoming). I focus here on linguistic evidence for contact, drawing on an extensive survey of lexical and grammatical features across dozens of Amazonian languages. An evaluation of patterns of lexical borrowing, Wanderwörter, and grammatical diffusion suggests that multilingual interaction has been widespread in native Amazonia, facilitated by particular activities such as trade, intermarriage, and participation in networks of ritual practice.

Fieldwork Workshop Meeting Wednesday (10/29) at 2:30PM

Join the Fieldwork Workshop in the Ivan Sag room at 2:30 next Wednesday as they welcome Terrence Kaufman, renowned American Indian fieldworker recently returned from Brazil!

All are welcome!

Look Who’s Talking!

We already announced the large crop of Stanford presentations at NWAV 43 this week, but we missed one important piece (sorry John!):

  • John Rickford will be speaking as part of a tribute to Walt Wolfram on the occasion of Wolfram winning North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the North Carolina Medal.

Lelia Glass will present “Corpus evidence for systematicity in compounds” (joint work with Beth Levin and Dan Jurafsky) at the Berkeley Syntax Circle on October 31.

Dan Jurafsky will present “Macaroon, Macaron, Macaroni: The Secret Language of Food” at the Gunn-SIEPR Building today from 3:15 to 4:15 as part of the Reunion Homecoming Festivities.

Vera Gribanova will present “Discourse-driven head movement, VSO and ellipsis in Russian” at NELS 45 at MIT on Oct. 31-Nov. 2.

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.