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Fall 2019

August 30, 2019 - Katrina Connell

Title: Suprasegmental information in spoken word recognition: The eye as a window to the mind

Abstract: When recognizing spoken words, listeners use the acoustic information available in the speech signal to identify the intended word (and meaning) of the speaker in the mental lexicon. The information used in the acoustic signal includes not only segmental information, but also suprasegmental information; however, how suprasegmental information is utilized in the word recognition system is poorly understood in comparison to segmental information. In this talk, I will discuss how visual world eye tracking can be used as a window to the mind that allows us to investigate spoken word recognition in a way that is unique to eye tracking by introducing some of my recent work. 

I will first discuss a study that investigated a phonological alternation which has been widely seen as completely neutralizing in perception. Visual world eye tracking was used to test if implicit sensitivity to the differences between the surface forms influences native listeners’ eye movement patterns, even if they cannot consciously access this for identification tasks. The results tentatively suggest that listeners may be sensitive to this difference in perception, despite inability to explicitly identify the underlying forms.I will then introduce a second study in which visual world eye tracking was again used, this time to investigate if English-speaking learners of Mandarin Chinese are similar to native listeners in their use of tonal information in recognizing spoken words, as suggested by previous priming work.  The results suggest that while learners are similar to native listeners in some regards, they differ in ways that could have a substantial impact on their overall comprehension.

September 13, 2019 - Amy Lebkeucher, Natalie Schwob, Dan Weiss

Title: The Role of Sequencing Biases in the Evolution of Syntax

Abstract: Understanding language evolution has been cast as the “hardest problem in science”(Christiansen & Kirby, 2003). In part, this is due to differences between language production and on human primate vocal production. Only language seems to convey meaning through the hierarchical structuring of elements. Thus, a longstanding question concerns the evolutionary origin of language sequencing, such as syntax, as nonhuman primate vocal repertoires are largely fixed. In this talk, we present research from our lab and others that investigates motor planning abilities across several primate species, including humans, in effort to explore whether this domain holds promise for understanding the origins of ordering biases found in language production. We also present recent work exploring whether common sequencing biases are found in adult humans that span motor and language tasks.

September 20, 2019 - Li-Fang Lai

Title: Intonation in Contact: Socioprosodic Variation Among Yami-Mandarin Bilinguals

Abstract: In contact settings, imbalanced intergroup relations and socioeconomic pressure play critical roles in determining the trajectory of language change. Yami, a moribund indigenous language spoken in Taiwan, is displaying rapid language loss and variation under cultural-economic pressure from Mandarin. In this talk, Lai will present a study that investigated socioprosodic variation in Yami-Mandarin bilingual speech, with a particular emphasis on Yami question intonation. The results show that younger bilingual speakers exhibited convergence toward Mandarin intonation. The declining use and prosodic changes of Yami, however, are not easily interpreted as a weakened Yami identity. Rather, it seems likely that younger speakers no longer use Yami to fulfill their communicative needs but instead lean on its socio-indexical functions to voice their ethnocultural identity. Lai will also describe her current project exploring regional prosodic variation in American English, examining potential links between prosodic distinctiveness and a speaker’s regional and social identities.

September 27, 2019 - Danny Erker

Title: American Myths of Linguistic Assimilation: A Sociolinguistic Rebuttal

Abstract: This study examines the behavior of 331 Spanish speakers, 269 immigrants to the United States and 62 native-born individuals, through questionnaires and sociolinguistic interviews. Results show that increased U.S. life experience correlates with expanded use of English in both private and public domains of life. Additionally, greater use of English co-exists with maintenance of fine-grained patterns of structured linguistic variation in Spanish, such that U.S.-born speakers demonstrate remarkable similarity to the immigrant generation in their usage of three variables: (i) subject pronoun presence vs. absence, (ii) grammatical subject position, and (iii) syllable-final /s/. The co-occurence of increased use of English, on one hand, and intergenerational structural continuity in variable linguistic behavior in Spanish, on the other, challenges two misconceptions about Spanish in the United States: that (1) Spanish-speaking immigrants and their U.S. born children are unwilling or unable to learn English, and (2) regular use of English entails attrition and/or failed acquisition of Spanish. Neither of these views finds empirical support in our data.

October 11, 2019 - Mike Johns

Title: Integration in Code-switching: What is it, How Does it Surface, and Why?

Abstract: Two important discoveries in bilingualism research are that 1) the two languages of a bilingual are always active, even when only one language is being attended to, and 2) the two languages of a bilingual influence one another in a bi-directional manner. In other words, the two languages of a bilingual are intimately intertwined. Despite this understanding, the ways in which we view and model the bilingual linguistic system tend to keep the languages distinct, relying on built-in mechanisms to separate them. But just how separate, or not, are the two languages of a bilingual? To examine this question, I present evidence from four studies investigating the processing and production of code-switched speech. These studies show that the processing of code-switched sentences is modulated by both the interaction between long-term linguistic experience and the immediate cognitive demands in which bilinguals find themselves. In production, code-switching appears to serve as a facilitative strategy that bilinguals employ to lessen the general demands of speech planning and production. Taken together, these studies suggest that the bilingual linguistic system is highly plastic and adaptive, changing to meet the demands of the current context. In some cases, a bilingual's two languages may appear separate, such that code-switching appears to be more alternation than integration; nonetheless, under different circumstances, the two languages of a bilingual appear less "two" and more "one" than previously thought. As Grosjean warned nearly forty years ago, there is no Platonic ideal of a bilingual; rather, bilingualism is a complex and holistic experience that shapes the ways bilinguals use and engage with their linguistic surroundings.

October 18, 2019 - Brittany Williams

Title: Studying Speech Perception in Adverse Listening Conditions

Abstract: During communication, listeners are often tasked with understanding speech despite complex acoustic environments. These adverse listening conditions can result from environmental noise as well as differences in speakers such as vocal tract size, native language, relative spatial location, etc. Yet, listeners are surprisingly successful at overcoming this variability to efficiently perceive speech (i.e., target) in the presence of competing signals (i.e., maskers). Speech-in-speech recognition is particularly difficult because targets and maskers can be very similar. One way listeners might resolve this issue is by tuning into the differing spectral and temporal characteristics between the target and masker. Another possibility is that intelligibility improves due to differing linguistic interference between the target and masker. Alternatively, listeners might benefit from a combination of both spectro-temporal factors and linguistic interference. In this talk, I will focus on a phenomenon called linguistic release from masking (LRM) in which listeners more easily segregate target and masker speech streams when they are unable to understand the linguistic content of the masker speech. Clearly, LRM increases ease of segregability of target-masker speech streams. Several studies have investigated LRM, but there is still room for further progress determining which factors drive this effect. Extending our understanding of LRM has important implications for addressing how listeners with typical and impaired hearing cope with speech-in-speech recognition in everyday listening conditions.

October 25, 2019 - Danielle Dickson

Title: Is Arithmetic a Kind of Language? ERP Evidence Suggests that Children and Adults Disagree

Abstract: An analogy can be formed between sentence reading (language) and arithmetic expression processing (math), which might suggest shared underlying cognitive processes. Sentences are made up of subparts (words) that are systemically combined to convey a potentially coherent message and, similarly, arithmetic equations are made up of subparts (numbers) with combinatorial symbols (+, -, ×, ÷) that can be sensibly completed (e.g., 4×5=20) or not (4×5=15). At the same time, there are important differences in the subjective goals people have in mind when encountering them, namely that sentences are read for meaning whereas arithmetic is processed for seeking a correct solution. Across a series of studies, Danielle Dickson will provide evidence from ERPs that long-term experience with arithmetic problems influences the way adults read them. Whereas children appear to process symbolic arithmetic as if they are reading a sentence with words, building meaning-level expectations, adults shift away from reading arithmetic for meaning and instead interpret arithmetic as a simple categorization task. It seems that when it comes to arithmetic, the brains of children and adults disagree about whether it is a kind of language.

November 1, 2019 - Holger Hopp

Title: Adaptation and Implicit Learning in L2 Sentence Processing: Morphosyntactic Variability

Abstract: In this talk, Hopp discusses the relationship between sentence processing and learning in adult L2 acquisition. acquisition. He reviews recent sentence processing and priming studies that expose adult L2 learners to input to input designed to make learners process L2 morphosyntactic detail. These studies test whether and how quickly learners adapt their processing to grammatical patterns experienced in the input. Finding that L2 speakers rapidly adapt their grammatical processing to the target input, he sketches how adaptation in L2 processing can form the basis for implicit learning of L2 morphosyntax. Hopp then discusses the limits of processing-based learning via adaptation by contrasting short-term adaptation and longer-term learning.

November 8, 2019 - Michael Robb

Title: Some Observations of Bilingualism and Stuttering

Abstract: More than half of the world’s population is bilingual. Consequently, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are now encountering clients who are bilingual with increasing frequency. The clinical management of bilingual speakers with communication disorders presents a number of challenges to the SLP. The focus of this presentation is to offer some insight as to the relationship between stuttering and bilingualism. Specifically, results will be presented from a series of studies examining (1) the fluency and language behavior of monolingual and bilingual speakers who stutter, (2) hemispheric asymmetry in monolingual and bilinguals who stutter, and (3) the role of language familiarity in the assessment of stuttering in bilingual speakers.

November 22, 2019 - Carlos Echeverria Arriagada

Title: Using old texts to test syntactic and psycholinguistic hypotheses 

Abstract: With the advent of structural and then generative approaches, historical linguistics experienced a notable decrease in popularity during the 20th century. However, several linguists have since pointed out the importance of diachrony in linguistic inquiry, not only for its own sake but also for understanding present-day language states from a synchronic point of view. In this talk, I set out to demonstrate how historical texts can shed light on structural and psycholinguistic questions by studying recomplementation (e.g., “My hope is that by the time we meet that we’ll have made some progress”) in Old Romance. Looking at single- and multiple-complementizer structures in medieval Spanish texts – where recomplementation is widely attested, in contrast to modern written texts – I explore the possibility that recomplementation may consist in the use of grammar-licensed constructional shifts with the function of aiding communication in the face of working memory constraints. Under the assumption that the grammar of a language is a system emerging from the interactions of its speakers, I argue that phenomena such as constructional breaks and shifts can be more than mere “performance” phenomena as long as their occurrence is licensed by convention, as seems to be the case with recomplementation in Old Spanish. Thus, if the proposed interpretation is correct, this phenomenon provides further evidence of the role of discourse in shaping grammar.