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You are here: Home / News & Events / CLS Speaker Series / Fall 2007 - Spring 2020 / Spring 2016

Spring 2016

Jan 15, 2016 -  Deborah Burke Deborah C. Morton (Penn State University)

Title: An Overview of the Structure of Gisida Anii

Abstract:The Niger-Congo language family is the largest in the world with reference to number of languages.  Many of those languages, however, particularly non-Bantu ones, are not well-known to linguists.  The Anii language is a member of the Kwa sub-family of Niger-Congo, and is spoken by approximately 50,000 speakers in Togo and Benin, West Africa.  This talk will provide an overview of the structure of the Gisida dialect of Anii with an emphasis on the ways that Anii is typologically different from many more well-known languages (in particular, Indo-European ones).

Topics to be covered include the noun-class system, some aspects of tense and aspect marking (or the lack thereof!), the lexical and grammatical function of tone, and some morphologically interesting word-compounding processes.  Some unusual phonological phenomena will also be discussed, including a very strong system of vowel harmony based on the feature [ATR] (Advanced Tongue Root), and some unique syllable structures (i.e. when vowels do not act like vowels).

Jan 22, 2016 - Melinda Fricke (Penn State University)

Title: Production and perception of codeswitching: Leveraging linguistic variation to study processing

Abstract: The linguistic form of codeswitched speech represents the end of a long chain of psycholinguistic planning processes that went in to producing it. Consequently, the study of codeswitched speech can yield insight into the psycholinguistic factors that modulate cross-language activation during bilingual speech planning. Further, to the extent that cross-language activation gives rise to distributional regularities in the surface form of speech, laboratory experiments can exploit these regularities to shed light on the learning processes that allow (or don’t allow) listeners to develop sensitivity to informative cues during language comprehension. In this talk, I describe a set of studies that follow this logic, first asking how cross-language activation during spontaneous speech planning affects the surface (phonetic) form of codeswitched bilingual speech, then investigating the extent to which listeners with different language backgrounds can perceive and make use of the relevant linguistic variation. I will discuss the implications for models of bilingual language processing, and will also consider the ways in which the results are relevant for psycholinguistics and linguistics more generally.

February 5, 2016 - Aaron Rubing and Lily Kahn (Penn State University, University College London)

Title: Jewish Languages, Past and Present

Abstract:This presentation is devoted to the rich array of languages other than Hebrew that have been written and spoken by Jewish communities throughout history. Jewish languages are genealogically very diverse, with representatives from the Germanic, Romance, Slavic, Hellenic, Indo-Aryan, Semitic, Dravidian, Caucasian, and Berber language families. They include ancient languages such as Judeo-Aramaic and Judeo-Greek, medieval varieties such as Judeo-French and Judeo-Portuguese, and newly emerging ones such as Jewish Amharic, Jewish English, and Jewish Swedish. Some Jewish languages (such as Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Persian, Ladino, and Yiddish) have substantial written traditions in the Hebrew script, while others (such as Judeo-Malayalam and Jewish Berber) are or were primarily spoken varieties. While the degree of difference between a Jewish language and its non-Jewish equivalent can vary considerably, they typically have a Hebrew and Aramaic lexical component, and most of them exhibit certain phonological, morphological, and syntactic differences from their non-Jewish sister languages. The presentation will provide historical and sociolinguistic introductions to these fascinating language varieties and will survey some of their most characteristic features. 

February 12, 2016 - Megan Zirnstein (Penn State University)

Title: Language Experience and Executive Function: What bilinguals bring to the table when reading in the L2

Abstract: A current topic in research on bilingualism is whether and in what ways being bilingual has repercussions for cognition and brain plasticity in older adulthood. This work often focuses on bilingual language production and compares this to performance on non-linguistic measures of executive function. In contrast, we know very little about how bilinguals, young adults especially, recruit executive function to support language comprehension, and in what ways these moment-to-moment processes may potentially result in changes to cognition across the lifespan. In this talk, I will discuss a series of studies that take advantage of aspects of reading comprehension that draw upon executive function skill, namely prediction and integration, in order to tease apart how executive function ability and multilingual experience can impact language processing itself. 

February 19, 2016 - Rachel Wu (UC Riverside)

Title: A new framework for lifespan cognitive development: Implications for language learning

Abstract: This talk will present a novel theoretical framework (CALLA –Cognitive Agility across the Lifespan via Learning and Attention) that merges research from cognitive development and cognitive aging (two largely distinct research areas). The purpose of this framework is to better understand the role of cognitive and environmental factors in the etiology and course of healthy cognitive aging. In particular, cognitive development sacrifices short-term efficiency in favor of long-term adaption to novel situations. By contrast, cognitive aging allows for specialization in familiar environments, perhaps leading to premature decline in cognitive abilities in novel and eventually familiar situations. By examining cognitive and environmental factors (in addition to genetically-encoded factors) across the lifespan, we can identify potential “triggers” and “brakes” for the cognitive development and aging processes (c.f. Werker & Hensch, 2015). These “triggers” and “brakes” are essential in theories on critical and sensitive periods, which have implications on learning potential across the lifespan. CALLA promotes known cognitive development factors (e.g., open-minded learning, immersion, and scaffolding) to improve future cognitive training regimes for aging adults and provides a unifying approach for understanding the mechanisms underlying cognitive training effects in older adults. The goal of this research is to determine the optimal methods for inducing long- term cognitive development to delay the onset of cognitive decline in aging adults. I will discuss the implications of this theoretical framework in relation to language learning across the lifespan.

February 26, 2016 - Holly Koegler (Penn State University)

Title: Mystery Action: What motor control can tell us about language and language disorders

Abstract: Language and action are related across the lifespan.  Much of the work investigating this relationship has focused on adults and typically developing children, and suggests that there are shared processes interacting and supporting development and performance in both domains. In many language disorders, there is evidence that action is affected in some way as well.  Specific Language Impairment (SLI) is one such disorder, where significant language difficulties co-occur with poor motor performance.  However, the literature on SLI is only beginning to look beyond linguistic-based accounts to explore the nature of these motor impairments and the processes supporting both language and action.  In this talk, I will discuss ways of studying these types of language impairments, the relationships between action and language in atypical populations, and how studying these processes together may help us better understand the nature of both language development and language disorders.

March 4, 2016 - Aaron Albin (Penn State University)

Title: Mystery Action: A theoretical and methodological framework for the analysis of intonation produced by second language learners

Abstract: The mechanisms at work behind how one acquires the intonation system of a second language remain very poorly understood. While the major models in Second Language Phonology (such as the Speech Learning Model or Perceptual Assimilation Model) have been widely extended to lexical contrasts involving pitch, until relatively recently, surprisingly little attention had been given to sentence-level intonation (as used, for example, to communicate information structure or discourse meanings). In particular, to date there is still no fully worked-out account of cross-linguistic transfer manifests itself in L2 intonation. Our limited understanding in this domain is also due in no small part to the fact it is far from trivial to unpack a pitch contour into its underlying phonological category structure, even in native speech. Thus, the problems hindering progress on this front are both theoretical and methodological in nature.

This talk sketches out a framework for tackling these two problems. On the theoretical end, based on a review of several hundred empirical studies on L2 intonation published between 1950 and 2013, twelve ways that the intonation system of the L1 can influence speech production in the L2 are identified. These are then assembled into a typology of L2 intonation transfer, expanding a previous typology by Mennen (2015). On the methodological end, a framework is presented whereby an L2 learner's intonation contour is 'stylized' into a quantitative representation reflecting the shape of the contour. Such stylizations can then be 'queried' in phonologically-informed ways to probe a phenomenon of interest for a particular research question. As an illustration, this approach is applied to corpus data on boundary rises in yes no questions produced by L1 Japanese learners of L2 English. Taken together, this framework not only lays out an intricate web of empirical predictions but also provides a means by which to test them, thus serving as a foundation for future research on this aspect of bilingual speech production.

March 18, 2016 - David Reitter (Penn State University)

Title: Mystery Action: Syntactic Priming: Why it exists, and how it helps dialogue

Abstract: In this talk, I will discuss corpus-based, "big-data" methods to study a psycholinguistic process in naturalistic dialogue: syntactic priming. The data from corpora such as Penn TreeBank and Map Task motivate a cognitive model of priming in language production. This model, in ACT-R, explains syntactic choice as a declarative memory retrieval (Reitter, Keller, & Moore, 2011).

Syntactic priming (Bock, 1986) is of interest as it reveals syntactic processing, and also because it has been claimed to form the basis of interactive alignment (Pickering & Garrod, 2004). The theory posits that speakers mutually adapt to their linguistic choices, reaching a more efficient common language.

I will discuss some key questions surrounding interactive alignment: whether priming is a social signal rather than just a mechanistic effect, and whether divergence effects found by Healey, Purver, & Howes (2014) are truly an argument against Interactive Alignment. The ACT-R explains these effects, and new analyses of the large-scale Reddit dataset support these viewpoints empirically.

March 25, 2016 - Avery Rizio (Penn State University)

Title: Age differences in language production: The neural correlates of semantic interference, phonological facilitation, and target picture frequency

Abstract: Research indicates that picture naming is facilitated when targets are presented with phonologically related words, but slowed by semantically related distractors. Older adults often show declines in phonological aspects of language production, particularly for low frequency words, but maintain strong semantic systems. Here we used fMRI and behavioral measures to investigate age differences as a function of distractor type and target frequency (N=20 younger, 20 older adults). Older adults recruited more activation in left occipital fusiform gyrus and inferior and middle temporal gyri during picture naming with semantically-related distractors compared to phonologically-related distractors. Activation in the occipital fusiform gyrus was significantly greater for older compared to younger adults. Older adults also recruited more activation in left superior parietal lobe during naming with semantic compared to unrelated distractors, though this activation pattern was not different from that of younger adults. Age differences emerged when comparing phonological to categorical distractors, as younger adults showed greater activation than older adults in left postcentral and right precentral gyri. With respect to the effect of target frequency, older adults showed greater negative correlations than younger adults. Specifically, older adults showed increased activation in right precentral and left supramarginal gyri during naming of low frequency items when paired with phonological distractors. These results indicate that the presence of phonological distractors facilitated picture naming in older adults for low frequency targets. The presence of a phonological distractor may increase activation in regions that support motor planning, potentially aiding articulation for words that are most difficult to produce. 

April 1, 2016 - Nate George (Penn State University)

Title: Language as a window into event representations across the lifespan

Abstract: Verbs and prepositions are fundamental components of language, conveying dynamic and static relations between objects in events (e.g., “The boy kicked the ball over the fence”). Yet, these “hard words” (Gleitman, Cassidy, Papafragou, Nappa, & Trueswell, 2005) are notoriously difficult to learn for both first and second language learners (George, Göksun, Hirsh-Pasek & Golinkoff, 2014). While we might describe a child playing in a park as a series of distinct events, such as running and climbing, this flurry of nonstop activity contains no natural pauses that distinguish one event from the next. Thus, a signature challenge of verb learning in particular is fitting the discrete categories of language onto events that are inherently continuous and dynamic (Hespos, Grossman, & Saylor, 2010). My research adopts a developmental approach to explore how infants, children, and adults tune their attention towards components of events, such as manners and paths of motion, that are relevant to parsing ongoing activity for language. In this talk, I begin by focusing on the problem of hierarchies in event structure. This research highlights the role of language in helping infants, children, and adults assemble simple actions (e.g., rinsing a plate) into meaningful events on a broader scale (e.g., washing dishes). I then extend my research to consider issues of adult second language learning by looking at how languages differ in their parsing of events, and how these differences yield unique challenges for acquiring a new language. This research employs training studies to examine the malleability of biases regarding how verbs and prepositions relate to events, and how the process of detecting these patterns in a new language may differ across monolingual and bilingual speakers.

April 8, 2016 - Ariana Mikulski (Penn State University)

Title: The writing behaviors of heritage and foreign-language learners of Spanish

Abstract: For many Spanish foreign-language (SFL) courses in the United States, it is becoming the norm to find two combined populations: 1) traditional SFL learners and 2) Spanish heritage-language (SHL) learners, who have attained some level of proficiency in Spanish via home and/or community exposure (e.g., Valdés, 2001). These learners often are grouped together despite their different experiences with written Spanish. This presentation describes SHL and SFL learners’ writing behaviors in English and Spanish, including time allocation for planning, execution, and monitoring; revision; accuracy; and fluency. We compared writing behaviors across languages in each learner group (Elola and Mikulski, 2013; Elola and Mikulski, in press; Mikulski and Elola, 2011) and across learner groups (Elola and Mikulski, in press). Twelve SHL learners and six SFL learners in a third-year Spanish class responded to prompts in Spanish and English while screen-capture software recorded their behaviors. SHL learners spent significantly more time planning between sentences in their Spanish responses, but demonstrated more fluency and accuracy when writing in English. SFL learners wrote less fluently, performed more surface revisions, and demonstrated less accuracy when writing in Spanish than in English, but spent more time monitoring their writing in English. Compared to their SHL counterparts, SFL learners wrote less fluently and accurately and devoted less time to Spanish inter-sentential planning and English monitoring. The SFL learners performed more surface revisions in Spanish and fewer meaning revisions in English and Spanish than the SHL learners. Although some writing behaviors appear to transfer across languages, instructors of mixed SHL-SFL courses also should take into account each learner group’s needs. 

April 15, 2016 - Courtney Johnson Fowler (Penn State University)

Title: Exploring cross-language grammatical gender interaction in German-Italian bilinguals

Abstract: Psycholinguistic research has shown that even when bilinguals are processing in only one language, both of their languages remain activated (e.g., Costa et al., 2000). This co-activation leads to cross-language interaction and in cases where both of a bilingual’s languages contain grammatical gender, the two gender systems have been shown to interact (e.g., Paolieri et al., 2010). Our understanding of this so-called ‘gender-congruency effect’ is mainly limited to the influence of the L1 on the L2 (but see Morales et al., 2011) and to late L2 speakers living in either the L2 (e.g., Bordag & Pechmann, 2007) or the L1 (e.g., Salamoura & Williams, 2007) environment. The current study seeks to expand our understanding of how and when gender systems interact in bilinguals by comparing two groups of L1 German-L2 Italian speakers from South Tyrol, one living in bilingual South Tyrol and the other living in German-speaking Austria. Both groups completed a series of picture naming tasks in both their L1 German and L2 Italian so that interaction can be measured bidirectionally. In Experiment 1 bilinguals named images in isolation, whereas in Experiment 2 images were embedded in sentences to see whether the gender-congruency effect is modulated by sentence context as is the case with the cognate effect (e.g., Schwartz & Kroll, 2006; Starreveld et al., 2013). Results show that the gender systems of these South Tyrolean bilinguals interact only in L2 naming, both when naming in isolation and in sentence context, and that this interaction is present regardless of current language environment.

April 22, 2016 - Grant Berry (Penn State University)

Title: The long and short of it: How short-term alignment and cognitive processing may influence sound change

Abstract: Human beings are adept at processing variation in speech, and a wealth of research attests to individuals’ ability to quickly adapt perception to their input. Another, immediate consequence of exposure to variation may be modifications in the listener’s subsequent production (alignment/accommodation). Over the course of a conversation, interlocutors may align in their production of fine phonetic detail, including speech rate, pitch, spectral properties of vocalic production, and voice-onset time. However, interlocutors using the same language may also differ at the level of their phonological inventories (e.g., pen and pinare homophonous for Kansas City natives like me, but not for most Northeasterners), which affects both perception and production. Accommodation in production at the phonological level remains understudied, but may be essential to understanding how subtle, short-term variation in production is related to language change on a larger scale.

In this talk, I discuss two studies investigating phonological production in discourse. The first, resulting from collaboration with Mirjam Ernestus at Radboud University, investigates phonetic alignment in English as a lingua franca among Spanish-English participants and Dutch-English confederates. We examine dynamic changes to the production of two key phonological contrasts (/i/-/ɪ/ and /ɛ/-/æ/) in English, finding that Spanish participants align to the English of their Dutch interlocutors, which involves a merged /ɛ/-/æ/ category but a distinction of /i/ and /ɪ/, rather than more native-like English (which would require a four-way distinction). These results imply that phonological category production dynamically updates in response to one’s input, even after a single conversation. The second is a pilot study addressing how individual differences in processing variation may correlate to differences in the adoption of variable phonological rules over time. I collected personal narratives from Spanish-English bilinguals who are longstanding residents of Philadelphia, focusing on their production of three context-restricted sound changes-in-progress in that community (Ey Raising, where bait and beat become near homophonous; Canadian Raising, where the vowel in price raises and becomes distinct from the vowel in prize; and AE-tensing, where the vowel in ham raises and tenses and becomes distinct from the vowel in had) with distinct social valuations (non-salient, slightly salient, and socially salient, respectively). I then correlate adoption of these changes-in-progress with individual difference measures (proactive control, reactive control, and the Autism Spectrum Quotient). Notably, the effect of individual difference measures depends on the social value of the variable analyzed. Cognitive processing measures better describe changes-in-progress with low social awareness (Ey Raising, Canadian Raising) than they do salient changes-in-progress (AE-Tensing). This suggests that while the way an individual processes variation in his/her input may have implications for his/her adoption of changes present in the environment, social valuation can suppress these effects. I conclude this talk by outlining a working hypothesis regarding the importance of cognitive control and phonetic alignment in the actuation of sound change.

April 29, 2016 - Jennifer Roche (Kent State University)

Title: The long and short of it: Miscommunication: A useful component of successful communication

Abstract: In an ideal world, interlocutors should be explicit and only provide necessary and sufficient information to a conversation partner (Grice, 1975). However, we do not live in an ideal world and much of communication is riddled with unsuccessful attempts. These unsuccessful attempts need not be deemed as detrimental aspects of the communication system, rather as an integral part of how we communicate. In fact, these moments of communication breakdown have the potential to promote adaptation and adjustment during the dynamic exchange of information during interactive communication (Roche, Paxton, Ibarra, & Tanenhaus, under review). In what follows, I will present two studies that focus on 1) how a listener handles ambiguity that might promote communication breakdown and 2) how a speaker’s intention to feign one’s true intentions affects a listener’s ability to represent a speaker’s message. I will show that ambiguity is only sometimes problematic, and the locus of the ambiguity may prompt alignment of effort between speaker’s and listeners (Craycraft, Kriegel, & Roche, accepted). I will also show that interlocutors advantageously withhold extralinguistic information during communication, which has varying outcomes on listener’s comprehension of world knowledge (Roche, Fissel, & Duchi, under review). The results from these studies are meant to show that miscommunication, as situated in context, shapes how a listener interprets a speaker’s message.