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Fall 2017

Aug 25, 2017 - Anne Beatty (Penn State)

Title: Examining the Effects of Codeswitching Experience on Bilingual Language Production and Comprehension

Abstract: From a psycholinguistic perspective, codeswitching bears the hallmark of cross-language activation and represents a research tool to examine how bilinguals systematically (dis)engage two languages. Although research on codeswitching is increasingly growing, the processes that mediate the production and comprehension of this linguistic behavior are not well understood. One possibility explored in this talk is that production and comprehension processes may be differentially tuned by individuals’ experience with codeswitching. I will report on two studies investigating the effects of codeswitching experience on language processing. The first study involves a series of tasks examining how different production choices modulate electrophysiological activity in two groups of Spanish-English bilinguals who differed in codeswitching experience. In the second study, I examine bilingual picture naming performance of three Spanish-English bilingual groups from different interactional contexts. I discuss these results with respect to accounts of bilingual language processing and bilingual language control.

Sept 8, 2017 - Michele Diaz (Penn State)

Title: Neural and Behavioral Aspects of Language Production and Aging

Abstract: Although decline in cognitive functions is often observed with aging, language functions show a pattern of both impaired and spared performance.  Semantic processes, such as vocabulary, are well maintained throughout adulthood. In contrast, older adults show impairments in phonological aspects of language production such as in increased slips of the tongue and increased pauses during speech. This asymmetric pattern suggests a fundamental difference in the cognitive and neural organization of these two language abilities.  Moreover, language production abilities interact with general cognitive functions such as inhibition and planning.  In this talk, I will discuss our most recent work which incorporated a phonological go-no go task to examine the interaction between language production and executive function abilities.  I will also discuss our work examining how cognition, behavior, and neural factors relate to each other and how they contribute to language function in healthy younger and older adults.

Sept 15, 2017 - Benjamin Schloss and Ping Li (Penn State)

Title: Simultaneous Eye-Tracking and fMRI in L1 and L2 Readers of English 

Abstract: This talk will highlight several ongoing research projects from the Brain, Language, and Computation lab which make use of simultaneous eye-tracking and fMRI, a recently emerging methodology which allows researchers to simultaneously collect highly sensitive behavioral and neuroimaging data on various language processes in naturalistic reading environments. We will discuss how the current methodology makes it possible to tease apart the neural correlates of different linguistic processes that are used during reading, such as the processing of lexical variables like word length, frequency, concreteness, and we compare these results among a population of native English monolingual speakers and Chinese-English bilinguals. Furthermore, we discuss results from the native English monolinguals which begin to uncover how high level variables like reading comprehension modulate the integration of low lexical variables into oculomotor commands (predictions about upcoming linguistic information). We discuss the findings in light of current, motor centric theories of language acquisition. Finally, we discuss how we are using these methods to study the basic statistical learning mechanisms that underlie online changes in conceptual representations at the neural level during reading and then applying these methods to L2 learners to assess comprehension.

Sept 22, 2017 - Morten Christiansen (Cornell University) 

Title: Creating Language: From Milliseconds to Millennia

Abstract: Language is a hallmark of the human species; the flexibility and unbounded expressivity of our linguistic abilities is unique in the biological world. To understand this astonishing phenomenon, we must consider how language is created: moment by moment, in the production and comprehension of individual utterances; year by year, as new language learners acquire language skills; and generation by generation, as languages change, split, and fuse through the processes of cultural evolution. In this talk, I discuss how a fundamental constraint—the Now-or-Never bottleneck—impacts language across these different timescales. During normal linguistic interaction, we are faced with an immense challenge by the combined effects of rapid input, short-lived sensory memory, and severely limited sequence memory. To overcome this bottleneck, language users must learn to compress and recode language input as rapidly as possible into increasingly more abstract levels of linguistic representation. This perspective has profound implications for the nature of language processing, acquisition, and evolution. To illustrate, I present results from lab-based cultural evolution experiments, computational simulations of language acquisition, and psycholinguistic experimentation, highlighting chunking as fundamental to our language ability.

Sept 29, 2017 - Frances Blanchette (Penn State)

Title: Linguistic Variation and Standard Language Ideology:  The Case of Negative Auxiliary Inversion 

Abstract: In this talk I present a formal analysis of the English Negative Auxiliary Inversion (NAI) construction (Blanchette & Collins 2017). NAI constructions (e.g. ‘Didn’t many people come’) are string identical to yes/no questions, and are employed and interpreted as declaratives. They are found in many English varieties including Appalachian (Wolfram & Christian 1976), African American (Green 2002, 2014), and West Texas English (Foreman 1999). The formal analysis I present captures several syntactic and semantic properties of NAI, including (i) the absence of semantic ambiguity despite the presence of two scope-bearing elements, (ii) the impossibility of definite noun phrases in NAI subject position, and (iii) the parallel between NAI subjects and noun phrases that can be directly modified by negation (e.g. ‘not many people’). Extending beyond the formal analysis, I discuss how NAI constructions might inform our understanding of the role of standard language ideology (in the sense of Milroy 2001) in shaping synchronic properties as well as linguistic theories of natural language variation.

Oct 6, 2017 - Hossein Karim (Penn State)

Title: The Effect of Representational Richness on Memory Retrieval During Referential Processing

Abstract: Language processing necessarily relies on memory of the immediate past; previously encoded information needs to be retrieved to incorporate new information successfully and efficiently. One of the areas in which the role of memory retrieval is prominent is referential processing where one or more referential candidates are initially encoded and then are subsequently retrieved when a referring expression (such as a pronoun) is encountered. In this talk, I will report the results of three projects investigating whether and how retrieval difficulty affects referential processing. In all projects, we manipulated retrieval difficulty by varying the amount of extra information attached to potential referents, producing representationally rich (e.g., the actor who had recently won an Oscar award) and bare (e.g., the actor) referential candidates. We measured behavioral responses such as the choice between different forms of referring expressions (e.g., pronouns vs. repeated nouns) during language production, looking probability in the Visual World as well as Event Related Potentials, and observed that representational richness facilitates the retrieval of associated memory items. Taken together, the results lend support to cue-based retrieval theories of language processing according to which richer memory representations should be more easily retrievable due to reactivation and/or distinctiveness.

Oct 13, 2017 - Joan Bybee (University of New Mexico)

Title: Directionality in Language Change:  Lenition and Fortition

Abstract: Broad cross-linguistic trends in language change occur in all parts of language structure. Given the general trend in sound change towards lenition, cases of apparent fortition require examination. Results from a cross-linguistic database of phonological processes show that fortitions are very rare, but the most common type is glide strengthening, especially of palatal glides. This strengthening can be related to the common assimilation process of palatalization and a palatalizing type of language is proposed, with Romance languages as good examples of this type.

Oct 13, 2017 - Jim Michnowizc (NC State University)

Title: Language Contact, Change, and New Dialect Formation in Yucatan Spanish

Abstract: The Spanish spoken in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico is singled out as a distinctive dialect of Latin American Spanish, based on a number of linguistic features. These features include areas of segmental phonetics/phonology, as well as suprasegmental features, such as intonation and rhythm (Michnowicz 2015; Michnowicz & Barnes 2013; Michnowicz and Hyler 2016). Many of these traits have been attributed to direct or indirect influence of the indigenous contact language in Yucatan, Maya (Lipski 2004; Klee & Lynch 2009; Michnowicz 2015). So while ‘traditional’ Yucatan Spanish shows traits that may be attributed to Maya, research has shown that younger speakers of Yucatan Spanish are quickly moving away from the ‘typical’ Yucatan dialect, toward a more ‘standard’ norm (see Michnowicz 2015). This talk will examine the sociolinguistic factors of age and language background across a swarm of linguistic variables to examine how competing social pressures are shaping the future of Yucatan Spanish. In addition to the sociolinguistic apparent time data collected in 2005, more recent data (2016) adds a sociolinguistic generation to the analysis in real time, helping us to better understand the social and linguistic dynamics at play, including the retention of some linguistic forms as possible markers of regional identity.

Oct 20, 2017 - Chaleece Sandberg (Penn State)

Title: Possible Differences in the Organization of Abstract and Concrete Words in the Semantic System

Abstract: It is well known that performance for concrete words is better than for abstract words in both healthy adults and persons with aphasia.  Further, training abstract words in persons with aphasia promotes generalization not seen when training concrete words. While there are several theories that account for the concreteness effect, this one-sided generalization remains difficult to explain. One interesting hypothesis is that of Different Representational Frameworks for abstract and concrete words within the semantic network, such that abstract words are organized via association while concrete words are taxonomically/categorically organized. We tested this hypothesis using a relatedness-judgment task during EEG and fMRI.

Oct 27, 2017 - Joanne Arciuli (University of Sydney)

Title: How Sensitivity to Statistical Regularities Assists Children When They Are Learning to Read

Abstract: I am fascinated by the myriad of statistical regularities in spoken and written language, whether these regularities assist the incredible feat of acquiring language, and the nature of the learning mechanism(s) which might underpin sensitivity to these regularities. In this talk I will share my discovery of a rich source of probabilistic orthographic cues to lexical stress in English and in other European languages. Of course, the discovery of such regularities does not mean that children actually use them when learning to read. Another part of my research program is devoted to investigating whether these kinds of cues are used and how they are learned. I will discuss my research on how children learn to assign lexical stress during reading aloud via a triangulation of methods: corpus analysis of probabilistic cues to lexical stress in words that are found in children’s age-appropriate storybooks, behavioral testing of children aged 5-12 years of age to test sensitivity to these cues, and connectionist computational modeling to simulate children’s reading aloud. Broadly speaking, it is thought that a form of implicit learning, such as statistical learning, underpins sensitivity to these and other kinds of statistical regularities when children are acquiring spoken and written language. I will discuss some of my research on individual differences in children’s capacity for statistical learning and on the link between these individual differences and reading ability.

Nov 3, 2017 - Rafał Jończyk (Penn State)

Title: Keep Calm and Carry On: ERP Evidence for Reduced Perception of Negativity in Bilingualism 

Abstract: I am passionate about the human mind and specifically how it deals with the ubiquitous emotional cues that constitute an intrinsic element of social interaction. As a linguist, I have been particularly fascinated by the interaction between language and emotion. While there is abundant evidence demonstrating facilitatory processing of emotional relative to neutral language in monolingual speakers, we still know relatively little about language-emotion interactions in bilingual speakers. May it be the case that emotional content carries different weight in our second language (henceforth, L2)? In this talk, I will build on recent introspective, decision-making, and neurocognitive research on bilingualism and emotion suggesting that bilinguals may process negative information on a shallower level in their L2. Following a review of studies in the field, I will turn to a detailed discussion of two of my recent experiments that measured electrophysiological responses to emotional sentences (experiment 1) and to upcoming emotional events (experiment 2) in bilingual speakers. Both experiments provide novel neurocognitive evidence pointing to a reduced emotional response to and anticipation of negative information in L2. These findings give insight into the interplay between language and emotion in a bilingual mind and may have important implications for therapy, education, decision making, and everyday life in a bilingual context.

Nov 17, 2017 - Mike Putnam (Penn State)

Title: Complex wh-Movement in Heritage Speakers and L2 Learners: Transfer vs. Derivational Complexity

Abstract: Non-target patterns of language production in heritage and L2 populations stand to reveal a great deal about the unity of behaviors under ideal resource availability (competence) and capacity-limited behaviors (performance) of these grammars. In this presentation I present on going collaborative research (Hopp, Putnam, & Vosburg; under review) where we investigate whether non-target wh-questions in heritage Mennonite Low German (a.k.a. Plautdietsch) and L2 English speakers are due primarily to cross-linguistic transfer or the reduction of grammatical complexity as modeled by the Derivational Complexity Hypothesis (DCH, Jakubowicz, 2005). Previous research shows that complex (i.e., cross-clausal) wh-dependencies pose more difficulty to child L1 and adult L2 learners than monoclausal dependencies (Jakubowicz & Strik, 2008; Schulz, 2011; Slavkov, 2014). In this study, we investigate the linguistic behavior of twelve (n=12) bilingual Plautdietsch-English speakers in Southwestern Kansas, analyzing both their production and comprehension of wh-questions in both languages. In both production and comprehension, in the L1 only heritage speakers produced medial, non-target wh-elements, while in L2 English, only late L2 learners produced such elements. We argue that these patterns cannot be due to transfer, since speakers produce medial-wh in only one of their languages. Instead, medial wh-elements occur as a mechanism to reduce syntactic complexity in the less dominant language, irrespective of whether it is the L1 or L2 and regardless of whether the language was acquired early or later in life. These findings suggest that the DCH can account for aspects of grammatical restructuring in both L1 and (late) L2 speakers.

Dec 1, 2017 - Darren Tanner (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Title: Do the Comprehension and Production of Grammatical Agreement Use Shared Mechanisms?  A Psycholinguistic Tale in Three Acts

Abstract: Grammatical relationships like agreement are a hallmark of natural language, such that language users must learn to compute these discontinuous dependencies in real time in both language production and comprehension. Psycholinguistic theories must therefore account for the types of information that feed these computations and the cognitive mechanisms that support them. Of particular interest in recent theorizing is the relationship between comprehension and production, with many researchers arguing that there is a large degree of overlap between the two tasks. In particular, many recent theories have posited that language production processes at least partially support language comprehension (e.g., Dell & Chang, 2014; Pickering & Garrod, 2013; see also MacDonald, 2013; Segaert et al., 2012; Silbert et al., 2014).  In this talk, I examine this issue through the lens of grammatical subject-verb agreement. A significant amount of work has documented processing of subject-verb agreement in language production and shown that a variety of morphological and semantic factors influence agreement computation, but that conceptual representations and feature markedness play an important role agreement production (Eberhard, 1997, 1999; Eberhard et al., 2005; see also Gillespie & Pearlmutter, 2011, 2012). In a series of two ERP, two self-paced reading, and one speeded comprehension experiments, I look at the role of these factors in comprehension (Tanner, Nicol, & Brehm, 2014; Tanner & Bulkes, 2015; Tanner, Dempsey, & Christianson, in prep). Overall, the results show that prior findings implicating conceptual representations and plural markedness effects do not extend to comprehension. The findings converge to show that there are non-trivial differences in how morphosyntactic agreement is computed in comprehension and production. I describe an agreement comprehension system that highlights the feature anticipation and memory retrieval as key mechanisms supporting morphosyntactic dependency formation.