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You are here: Home / News & Events / CLS Speaker Series / Fall 2007 - Fall 2020 / Spring 2019

Spring 2019

January 18, 2019 - Matthew Carlson, Victoria Gertel, Dominick DiMercurio (Penn State) 

Title: Beyond the Next-Door Neighbors: Accounting for Network Structure in Lexical Processing

Abstract: Neighborhood density effects have a long history in the psycholinguistic literature as a way of operationalizing phonological or orthographic similarity between words, with well-documented, if small, effects on lexical processing, vocabulary development, and phonological development. However, neighborhood density has important limitations, and it has increasingly become regarded as a somewhat blunt, if useful instrument. One way of sharpening it, as it were, has been pursued by researchers employing the emerging tools of network science. These researchers point out that, when all words in a lexicon are connected to their neighbors, the result is a complex network, and a word’s position in that network reflects much more than its relationship with its immediate neighbors. Several studies have examined one or two network measures in isolation (e.g. degree and clustering coefficient) on highly controlled stimulus sets; however, many network-theoretic measures are conceptually related and are not mathematically independent (Rubinov & Sporns, 2010). This makes it difficult to interpret the separately reported effects for individual measures as indicators of how network structure may be related to the organization and functioning of the mental lexicon.

In the present work, we sought to examine how a wide variety of network-theoretic properties jointly relate to lexical processing. We considered a wide range of network measures (e.g. degree, clustering coefficient, centrality, and efficiency), and used them (alongside word frequency and length as covariates) to predict behavioral measures for a large and diverse database (20,930 words in the English Lexicon Project). We employed statistical methods that enable us to both cope with and explore mathematical relatedness among measures, namely, partial least squares regression and decision trees. A partial least squares regression between lexical properties and behavioral data revealed that frequency, length, and the network properties appear to work together, suggesting that network properties may not play a substantial role in processing that is independent of frequency and length. Further investigation through decision tree analysis elaborates on these findings, suggesting that word frequency is the most reliable of the tested variables for predicting response times, with network properties becoming explanatory under specific conditions. Together, these results suggest that neighborhood density and other related measures of how words can be embedded within orthographic and phonological networks may play a smaller role in processing time than the previous literature may lead one to believe. Our work has implications to guide the development of more refined approaches in future research in networks for representing the mental lexicon.

January 25, 2019 - Hossein Karimi (Penn State)

Title: The Effect of Phonological Similarity on Memory Retrieval During Referential Processing 

Abstract: Processing referring expressions such as pronouns (e.g., he) requires retrieval of the memory representation associated with the entity that the pronoun refers to (namely, the referent; e.g., king). The efficiency of this retrieval operation has been shown to be influenced by the amount of interference caused by other competing items in memory during the retrieval of the target representation. Although semantic similarity of the potential referential candidates has been shown to complicate referential processing (Patil et al., 2016; also see Gordon et al., 2006), with pronouns following semantically more similar referential candidates (e.g., king and prince) being more difficult to process compared to those following semantically less similar items (king and pilot), the potential effect of phonological similarity of referential candidates on the processing of referring expressions has been left unexplored. In the present study, we manipulated the phonological similarity between referential candidates (Similar: Alice and Alison vs. Dissimilar: Alice and Barbara) and measured brain activity on following pronouns (she). Also, since older adults have been shown to experience more difficulty during phonological processing, we conducted the study on both older (age range: 60-80) and younger adults (age range: 18-25). Past research has shown that the ease of processing a pronoun is reflected by a sustained, frontal negativity commonly known as the Nref (negativity for referential processing), such that the more difficult referring expression results in an Nref effect relative to the easier-to-process expression (Van Berkum et al., 1999). Our results revealed an Nref effect for pronouns following dissimilar referential candidates (Alice and Barbara) relative to similar candidates (Alice and Alison) suggesting that, unlike semantic similarity, phonological similarity of potential referents facilitates referential processing. This effect did not reliably interact with Age, although we observed a trend towards a main effect of Age, with larger Nref effects for older than for younger adults. At least two explanations can be conceived of for the phonological similarity effect: 1. Unlike semantic similarity, phonological similarity does not cause interference during retrieval, 2. Phonologically similar items are more difficult to maintain in memory, which in turn might lead to under-specification of the pronoun (the referential dependency is essentially left unresolved). We will discuss how our results might inform the current memory-based theories of language processing as well as theories of how cognitive aging might affect language processing.


February 1, 2019 - Mike Putnam (Penn State)

Title: Syntactic Theory – Quo Vadis?

Abstract: Formal and explicit descriptions of natural phenomena are an essential component of any research program. The absence of such accounts significantly weaken empirical studies and often results in failure to integrate their findings into a larger cohesive whole. Although formal models of the structure of linguistic representations (i.e., syntax) have existed for decades, their acceptance and integration into other domains of language science has to date only been marginally successful. In this talk, I take a closer look at the structural properties of filler-gap dependencies (ex. [What]i did John say that Sarah would like to eat __i?), where two elements – here the filler (what) and the gap (indicated by the open slot) – that go together in meaning can occur arbitrarily far away from each other in syntactic structure. I summarize current research on constraints on extraction (also known as island phenomena), with a particular focus on the potential of satiation effects, where continued exposure to particular structures can lead to an amelioration of their ill-formedness. This presentation highlights the central importance of formal approaches to the structure of language, while also exposing shortcomings in current syntactic theorizing.


February 8, 2019 - Veronica Whitford (University of Texas, El Pas - Young Scholar Speakers Series) 

Abstract:We are proud to announce Dr. Veronica Whitford as this year’s Young Scholar in the annual Young Scholar Speaker Series. Dr. Whitford obtained her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from McGill University (Montreal, Canada). She then completed two post-doctoral fellowships in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: the first at the University of Western Ontario (London, Canada) and the second at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her research focuses on the behavioral and neural correlates of reading in children and adults with diverse language and cognitive backgrounds.

February 15, 2019 - Lara Schwarz (Penn State)

Title: (In-)Stability in Heritage Language Case Morphology: A Side-Effect of Typology?

Abstract: Morphological case marking is one of several vulnerable domains in heritage languages and has been reported in a wide variety of heritage languages in various contact situations. As recently as 2015, however, research on heritage Icelandic has maintained that case marking is largely intact, a claim largely based on anecdotal evidence. The maintenance of case marking in heritage Icelandic is an outlier in an overall trend towards case loss in heritage languages:
what makes it different? The answer may lie in a proposed typological distinction based on event semantics (Ritter & Rosen, 2000), with roots in a formal comparison of case and subjecthood in German and Icelandic (Zaenen, Maling and Thrainsson, 1985). Ritter & Rosen propose that Icelandic is a so-called “initiation language,” which prioritizes the thematic roles of an event when assigning case. For instance, given the sentence “The key opened the door,” an initiation language cannot assign nominative case to the noun phrase “the key,” because a key cannot function as the agent of opening, only as the instrument. In contrast, German and English are what Ritter & Rosen term “delimitation languages,” that primarily utilize structural case assignment, regardless of thematic roles. Many of the world’s languages, according to Ritter & Rosen, are delimitation languages.

I hypothesize that the initiation/delimitation typology results in the erosion case morphology when languages of the same type (“i” or “d”) come into contact, and the maintenance of case morphology when languages of differing types meet. In this talk, I present data from a systematic study of the gender and case paradigms in heritage German and Icelandic in contact with North American English. The results are largely consistent with previous findings. Case in heritage German is largely lost, and case in heritage Icelandic is largely maintained, however Icelandic case is not as robust against erosion as previously claimed. I then connect this data to a formal model of information sharing between argument structure, grammatical functions, morphology and syntax. The data raise the question of at what point in the language production process morphology is accessed: before or after grammatical functions have been assigned?

February 22, 2019 - Naomi Shin (University of New Mexico)

Title: The Ontogeny of Grammatical Variation

Abstract: To illustrate grammatical variation, consider Spanish subject pronouns, which can be expressed or omitted, as in yo voy ~ voy ‘I go’. This variation is probabilistically conditioned by multiple linguistic factors. More specifically, subject pronouns are likelier to be expressed when (i) the referent of the subject is different from that of previous subject, (ii) the subject is 1sg, (iii) the verb is a copula, and (iv) the verb is in the imperfective past tense. Such patterns of grammatical variation are highly systematic across communities of Spanish-speaking adults. Nevertheless, we still know very little about how such patterns develop during childhood.

In order to explore the ontogeny of grammatical variation, I first discuss studies of school-age Spanish-speaking children’s subject pronoun expression and subject-verb ~ verb-subject word order. The studies indicate that linguistic factors that constrain variation emerge over time, with discourse factors emerging earlier than morphological or verb class factors. The findings also suggest that some patterns of variation emerge first with frequent verbs and only later with infrequent ones, which supports the interpretation that high frequency items provide more evidence for learning patterns.

In the second half of the talk I make predictions for how grammatical variation develops during early childhood based on usage-based research on the acquisition of grammar. I propose three stages of development: (i) initially children show no evidence of variation, (ii) variation is restricted to item-specific constructions, and (iii) variation generalizes across items. I provide preliminary evidence of the early stages by drawing on natural conversation data produced by a young child in Spain, ages 1;7-2;3. Finally, I discuss ways to explore whether linguistic factors constrain variation during the earliest stages of language development.

March 1, 2019 - Ji Min Lee (Penn State) 

Title: Relationship between Articulatory Kinematics and Acoustics in Individuals with Dysarthria

Abstract: Dysarthria is a speech disorder that involves muscle weakness. It occurs due to various neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, traumatic brain injury, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The talk focuses on speech production of individuals with dysarthria secondary to ALS. When treating individuals with dysarthria, enhancing speech intelligibility is a primary goal. Acoustic characteristics such as formant frequencies critically impact intelligibility. The current study examines how individuals with ALS use their articulators (tongue and jaw) to produce formant frequencies. Tongue and jaw positions were collected using electromagnetic articulography while speakers produced nine vowels in /h/-vowel-/d/ contexts. Acoustic signals were recorded simultaneously. The results showed that the way individuals with ALS use their articulators to produce formant frequencies is different from the controls. Furthermore, the pattern differed according to the severity of dysarthria. I will discuss the findings in relation to potential articulator behaviors to enhance speech intelligibility in these individuals.

March 15, 2019 - Jared Taglialatela (Kennesaw State University)

Title: What Bonobos and Chimpanzees Are Teaching Us About the Origin of Language

Abstract: Human language is unique within the animal kingdom. However, the study of communicative behavior in extant nonhuman primates - particularly great apes - is critical for understanding the evolutionary origins of this uniqueness. Specifically, to determine why and how such a sophisticated communication system has evolved in humans, one must distinguish those characteristics that are derived in the human lineage and those that are ancestral. However, human language does not leave direct indelible marks in the fossil record. Therefore, to decipher the evolutionary origins of human language, one must identify similarities, as well as differences, between the communicative behavior of humans and their closest phylogenetic relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos.  In this talk, I will review a number of studies from my lab that collectively support the broad hypotheses that 1) the most-recent common ancestor of humans, chimpanzees, and bonobos possessed critical pre-requisites for language, and 2) over the course of hominin evolution, increasing group size may have driven the emergence of increasingly complex communication systems eventually culminating in human language.


March 22, 2019 - Priscila Lopez-Beltran and Haoyun Zhang (Penn State) - Miccio Award Recipient

March 29, 2019 - Deborah Morton (Penn State) 

Title: Language Contact and Dialect Formation: Anii Dialects and History

Abstract: The Anii language is currently spoken on the border between Togo and Benin in West Africa, but oral histories and language evidence both suggest that the language was brought to its current location by people moving eastward from what is now Ghana. Evidence will be presented suggesting that it is unlikely that the Anii people have been in their current location for more than 500 years, perhaps less. Despite this short amount of time, there is considerable diversity in the dialects of the language in the current area, to the point that at least one dialect could be argued to be a different language altogether. In addition, the oral histories of many of the Anii villages clearly speak of multiple founding families, often from different original cultures. These source cultures are often not the same between villages. This talk will survey the historical and linguistic evidence supporting the claim that the largest source of variation between the Anii dialects is historic (and perhaps continuing) language contact, rather than inherited changes.


April 5, 2019 - Evelyn Ferstl (University of Freiburg)

Title: Language Comprehension in Context: A Neuroscientific Perspective

Abstract: Text comprehension research has resulted in theoretical proposals and thorough experimental work on presumably distinguishable subprocesses, such as semantic integration, inferencing, or situation model building. With the increased availability of neuroimaging, there is now a considerable body of empirical work on the functional neuroanatomy of these processes. However, the mapping of particular brain regions to text comprehension processes has not been very consistent. On the other hand, neuroscience has led to a variety of new concepts (e.g. protagonist monitoring, accumulation) to explain some unexpected results, to reflect the fact that many brain functions seem rather general, and to include social-cognitive aspects, such as Theory-of-Mind or emotion. In this talk, I will summarize the discussion and illustrate it using empirical findings from my own research.


April 12, 2019 - Salikoko Mufwene (University of Chicago)

Title: Creoles Did Not Evolve from Pidgins; and Interpreters Delayed the Emergence of the Latter

Abstract: The received doctrine in creolistics since the late 19th century is that creoles evolved from pidgins. However, the socioeconomic history of the territories where creoles emerged does not support this position. Creoles appear to have emerged by basilectalization, diverging from closer approximations of their European nonstandard lexifiers to varieties increasingly different. Emerging in separate geographical settings from creoles, pidgins too seem to have evolved by basilectalization from nonstandard varieties of the same European languages. Moreover, they do not seem to have emerged as early as claimed in the literature, not sooner than the late 18th century, based on the documentary evidence available. Trade between European merchant companies (not individuals) and non-European rulers (not commoners) took place through interpreters, who also functioned as brokers. Even the exploitation colonization of Africa and Asia proceeded through interpreters!


April 27, 2019 - Carla Fernandez (Penn State)

Title: Can our eyes trick our ears? An electrophysiological study of the effects of facial cues on the processing foreign-accented and native-accented speech.

Abstract: In our increasingly globalized and interconnected world, there is a growing number of speakers of English as a second language and thus an increased likelihood to interact with foreign-accented speakers in our everyday conversations. Moreover, we are increasingly likely to encounter people from different ethnic backgrounds speaking English, who may or may not have a foreign accent. Research has found that listening to foreign-accented speech appears to be more effortful than listening to non-accented speech. One question that remained underexplored is how individuals listening to a speaker exploit this speaker's facial features as a visual cue to determine whether this speaker is likely to have an accent or not, and to what extent these visual cues affect the comprehension of foreign-accented speech. First studies on this topic indicate that listeners tend to use visual cues and information about bilingual speakers' identity to determine the language they are likely to encounter, but the exact neurocognitive mechanisms by which visual and auditory signals interact in the context of foreign-accented speech remained unexplored. Integrating theoretical perspectives and empirical knowledge on how foreign-accented speech and visual cues that reflect speaker identity affect speech comprehension, this study examined how listeners exploit visual cues (facial features regarding ethnicity) to comprehend foreign-accented and non-accented speech. Specifically, in a series of three experiments I sought to identify the neurocognitive mechanisms involved in the processing of congruent and incongruent visual and auditory signals (congruent: Caucasian face paired with non-accented speech and Asian face paired with Chinese-accented speech; incongruent: Asian face paired with non-accented speech and Caucasian face paired with Chinese-accented speech). To examine the impact of variability in listeners' prior experience with foreign-accented speech and (in)congruencies between accent and ethnicity, three different populations were studied: monolingual speakers of English (Experiment 1), Asian-American speakers for whom English is their native language (Experiment 2) and Chinese-English bilinguals who are Chinese dominant and have a Chinese accent in English (Experiment 3).