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Fall 2015

Aug 28, 2015 -  Deborah Burke (Pomona College)

Title: Mechanisms of Cognitive Aging: Implications for Effects of Bilingualism

Abstract: Aging during adulthood is characterized by both preserved and declining cognitive performance, creating a challenge for explanatory models. Older adults’ language performance, for example, is relatively stable for comprehension processes whereas language production is marked by increasing retrieval failures for well known words, i.e., tip of the tongue states. This has been explained within a connectionist model of language wherein aging and frequency of use affect connection strength, with phonological representations the most vulnerable to transmission deficits. Bilinguals report a similar pattern with more word retrieval failures than monolinguals, consistent with phonological transmission deficits caused by reduced word production in either language. A second aging mechanism, proposed to explain negative aging effects on memory and attention, is diminished executive control processes, especially inhibitory processes. Bilingualism, however, has a beneficial effect on executive processes and this, within this framework, should produce a greater bilingual advantage for older than young adults on executive tasks, a result that has been observed. However, older adults’ general slowing, new learning deficits and sensory declines affect performance attributed to executive processes, especially inhibitory processes. We discuss, for example, why older adults show less inattentional blindness than young adults. This research clarifies the need for theoretical development of the processes involved in executive control of older adults and bilinguals

Sep 11, 2015 - Chaleece Sandberg (Penn State University)

Title: Imageability, generalization, and neuroplasticity in aphasia rehabilitation

Abstract: Abstract and concrete words are interesting subdivisions of the semantic system to study in both healthy and language-disordered populations. This talk will present research showing: a) that the relationship between abstract and concrete words can be manipulated in the treatment of word-finding deficits in aphasia to promote generalization to untrained items, and b) that abstract and concrete words can also be used to systematically examine changes in brain activation and functional connectivity related to direct training and generalization effects of treatment in aphasia

Sep 18, 2015 - Phil Baldi (Penn State University)

Title: Good Words Gone Bad: Semantic Change in the History of English

Oct 02, 2015 - Caitlin Ting (Penn State University)

Title: The effects of prior experience on cognitive control during syntactic processing in music

Abstract: In both music and language, information must be presented and processed in serial order to be properly integrated. According to the Shared Syntactic Integration Resource Hypothesis (SSIRH; Patel, 2003; 2008) resources to process the syntax of music and language are shared, and these resources have limited capacity.In this talk, I will discuss a study in which we examined whether cognitive control is one of these shared processes and whether prior experience with syntactic representations modulates how cognitive control is involved during syntactic processing in music. In particular, we examined the effects of musical training and bilingualism. In addition, we examined whether and how prior experience with auditory processing in the form of tonal language use modulates syntactic processing in music. I will discuss also how the Adele Miccio Memorial Travel Award and NSF PIRE Fellowship allowed me to conduct this study.

Oct 09, 2015  - Jessi Aaron (University of Florida)

Title: Greater than any one of us, yet nothing without us: On the role of perception and everyday life in language

Abstract: The apparent dual nature of language, ephemeral and deeply social on the one hand, and highly structured and long-lived on the other, suggests an interesting paradox. How are our everyday interactions, perceptions, prejudices, and affiliations integrated into our language—a structure in flux that is both greater than any one of us and nothing without us? Quantitative analysis of language use can provide empirical evidence regarding the role of the powerful yet elusive social and cognitive forces that shape the way we use language, as well as how our language changes over time. These often have to do with perception. First, our language may reflect our perceptions of social groups. Second, our usage patterns may demonstrate our perception of what is sociolinguistically appropriate in our local communities, including the use of regional features and code-mixing. Third, broad patterns of language change may reflect how we perceive—and create—orderliness in our language through mechanisms such as analogy. Simply put, humans, as cultural and social minds, are builders of dynamic systems, including language. After all, life itself, and everything in it, is in constant motion. As the French Modernists pointed out, we can only perceive the world through our personal experiences within it. With this hodge-podge of disparate experiences, we construct a concrete reality, much like the linguistic structure we codify and study—both transient and eternal.

Oct 16, 2015  - Jorge Valdés Kroff (University of Florida)

Title: Learning to expect the unexpected: How bilinguals integrate code-switched speech

Abstract: Bilinguals in the presence of other known bilinguals engage in code-switching, generally defined as the fluid alternation between languages within a conversation (e.g Poplack, 1980). Socio- and theoretical linguists have proposed a series of factors for when and why (i.e. social) and where in a sentence (i.e. structural) code-switching occurs. More recently, psycholinguists have also shifted their attention to code-switching primarily because its production and especially its comprehension present a unique cognitive paradox. Experimental evidence on externally cued-language switching and non-linguistic task switching points towards obligatory switch costs that can be reduced but not eliminated (e.g. Meuter & Allport, 1999; Moreno et al., 2002; Monsell, 2003). Additionally, the hallmark of sentence processing is that we are incremental processors (e.g. Altmann & Kamide, 1999), i.e. speakers incrementally build interpretations as they integrate incoming speech. Logically, staying in one language alone should most efficiently benefit comprehension. Yet code-switching is ubiquitous and does not appear to impede successful comprehension. One plausible hypothesis relies upon exposure-based accounts to suggest that bilingual code-switchers learn via cues when to better anticipate an impending code-switch. Using eye-tracking and fMRI, I will provide evidence for a cue-based approach to code-switching primarily through the asymmetric use of grammatical gender in Spanish-English code-switching. In turn, the results from these studies suggest that code-switching is a highly skilled linguistic ability that bilinguals must learn in order to successfully integrate code-switched speech. 

Oct 16, 2015  - Anna María Escobar (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Title: CLoTILdE Project: Defining Semantic Influence in Quechua-Spanish Contact

Abstract: Long-term and intense Quechua-Spanish language contact has given rise to non-lexical contact phenomena in the Andean region. In the Peruvian case, due mainly to population movements that have taken place in the region since the early 20th century, Andean contact features are also found in non-Andean regions, such as on the coast and in the capital (Lima). Innovative morpho-syntactic features in the region take the form of new patterns of use (e.g., accusative clitic doubling), Zdrojewski & Sánchez 2014; possessive su, Escobar 2014) and of innovative functions (e.g. evidential Present Perfect, Escobar 1997, Jara 2013; inalienable possessive su, Escobar 2014), although the processes that explain the trajectories of the contact influence are not clear.

The CLoTILdE' Project brings together researchers from the U.S. and Peru in the pursuit of an innovative historical and sociolinguistics study that analyzes almost 50 years (from 1968 to 2015) of real-time oral Peruvian Spanish data with the goal of determining the trajectories that define 'Andean contact influence' (or 'semantic influence') in Peruvian varieties of Spanish.

In this presentation, I present examples of how properties of inalienability, and evidentiality from Quechua underlie innovative functions found in Peruvian varieties of Spanish, that are consistent with cross-linguistic tendencies. The presentation calls for rethinking methodologies for the study of language contact with ethnocultural languages, such as Amerindian languages.

Oct 23, 2015  - Sarah Grey (Penn State University)

Title: Comprehension of foreign-accented speech: evidence from ERPs and neural oscillations

Abstract: Worldwide, there are more multilingual than monolingual speakers and, by extension, more accented than non-accented speakers of English and many other world languages. Language is used and processed in context-rich social situations that are often layered with pragmatic content, but we know surprisingly little about how this contextual-pragmatic content affects the neurcognition of language. Here, I focus on an important yet under-studied area of research in the neurocognition of language: the effects of foreign-accented speaker identity as a pragmatic cue that influences language comprehension, and the impact of individual variation in listener experience, perception, and attitudes on comprehension. In this talk, I will present recent findings from an experiment that tested neuropragmatic sensitivity in monolingual listeners who were recruited to have limited experience with foreign-accented speakers. Listeners heard sentences that were well-formed or had an error in grammar or semantics; sentences were spoken by either a native-accented or a foreign-accented speaker. I will discuss our behavioral results for sentence comprehension, accent perception, and attitudes as well as two brain-based measures of sentence processing: ERPs and time-frequency analysis of neural oscillations.

Oct 30, 2015  - Mike Putnam and Lara Schwarz (Penn State University)

Title: Co-activation in bilingual grammars: A Gradient Symbolic Computation account of code mixing

Abstract: In this presentation we outline a novel approach to code-mixing that combines aspects of formal linguistic theory and the wealth of psycholinguistic evidence that suggest that bilinguals simultaneously co-activate elements from both source languages during production (e.g., see Kroll & Gollan 2014, for a review). We propose to integrate these two traditions within the formalism of Gradient Symbolic Computation (Smolensky et al. 2014; Goldrick et al. forthcoming). This approach allows us to formalize the integration of grammatical principles with gradient mental representations. We apply this framework to code-mixing structures: in particular, portmanteaus, where an element is doubled, appearing in both languages within a single utterance. While one might classify such portmanteaus as a production error, these utterances are evidence that the second source grammar has not completely been inhibited once the matrix language has been selected. Through GSC we discuss the conditions under which these doubled-structures can be realized.

Nov 06, 2015 - Carrie Jackson (Penn State University)

Title: Harnessing prosodic cues to improve the learning of L2 grammatical structures

Abstract: In this talk, I will present results from three recent studies that investigate how the inclusion of prosodic cues in the input learners receive results in sustained learning and more efficient online processing of two different grammatical structures that are notoriously difficult for American L2 learners of German. In so doing, I will demonstrate how foreign language instructors can harness intrinsic prosodic features of a language to improve the learning and retention of L2 grammatical features. At the same time, I will argue that the results from these three studies have important implications for our understanding of the underlying cognitive mechanisms that drive L2 processing and learning.

Dec 03, 2015 - Gigi Luk (Harvard Graduate School of Education)

Title: Bilingualism as a transdisciplinary field: What are the next questions?

Abstract: In this talk, I plan to argue that the debate on “bilingual advantage” is oversimplified, which risks dividing researchers into taking sides of a binary response on this question. The consequence is that no meaningful insights will result from this debate. Instead, harnessing cognitive neuroscience findings on brain differences associated with bilingual experience, we can ask relevant questions that will inform our understanding of bilingual development and learning. I will address two problems of fixating on the debate of the existence of “bilingual advantage”, primarily on the divergence of tasks and sample characteristics. Secondly, I will provide a framework of three research directions, namely measurement, relevance, and continuity, that go beyond the monolingual-bilingual comparison. In the third section, I will connect these three research directions to cognitive neuroscience, posing developmental questions from what we know about bilingualism and aging. I will end the talk with a quote from Peal & Lambert’s 1962 paper suggesting that looking at advantage/disadvantage does not advance our understanding on bilingualism and the developing mind. Considering bilingualism as a transdisciplinary field and ask questions focusing on differences will unify researchers in psychology, psycholinguistics, neuroscience, and education.

Dec 11, 2015 - Holger Hopp (Universität Mannheim)

Title: Bilingual lexical activation in L2 sentence processing

Abstract: In this talk, I will explore different aspects of how lexical representations and lexical processing affects the time-course and the outcome in native and non-native sentence processing. Research on the bilingual mental lexicon shows that bilinguals have interconnected lexical representations (non-selective access) and that bilinguals encode “Weaker Links” between word forms and lemmatic and conceptual information in their L2 than their L1. In three experiments on the processing of gender agreement in L2 German, on the parsing of reduced relative clauses and cleft sentences in L2 English, I explore the consequences of bilingual lexical co-activation and delays in lexical retrieval for L2 sentence processing. I will argue that many differences between native and non-native sentence comprehension that have hitherto been claimed to reflect morphosyntactic deficits in adult L2 sentence processing follow from the structure of the bilingual mental lexicon.