Colloquium Series



Fall 2017


Speaker:  Jie Li (Shantou University)
Date & Time: September 15th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Grammatical Metaphor Theory in Pursuit of Metaphorical Competence

Abstract:  Grammatical Metaphor is one of the important concepts in Systemic-Functional Grammar. Halliday (1994) took grammatical metaphor as a linguistic strategy for “variation in the expression of a meaning”. The language system provides language users with a system of meaning potential, from which language users make a series of choices to realize a certain semantic function. The relation between the chosen linguistic structure and the meaning expressed can be either congruent or incongruent/ metaphorical. Children gradually learn to speak metaphorically, and the emergence of more metaphorical expressions is an important feature of adult language. Denesi (1993) claimed that speaking metaphorically is a basic characteristic of native speaker’s linguistic competence. In other words, the ability of understand and use metaphors can be taken as an important symbol for the good mastery of a language. Therefore, it is both necessary and important to value metaphorical competence in language education. With the guidelines of the grammatical metaphor theory, this talk is going to analyze the nature, the complexity and the functions of metaphorical forms so as to help language learners with their knowledge and mastery of the metaphorical phenomena in their target language, and finally reach the goal of improving their linguistic competence by enhancing their ability to understand and use metaphors.

Speaker:  Aron Hirsch (McGill University)
Date & Time: October 6th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Only and pseudo-clefts

Abstract:  This talk motivates a revision to the semantics of only. Only composes with a proposition (its prejacent, p) and a set of alternative propositions. Only presupposes that p is true, and asserts that alternatives are false. In deciding which alternatives to negate, only is selective: to avoid creating a logical contradiction, only negates an alternative q only if ¬q is logically consistent with p. I will argue that only is even more selective than previously thought: in addition to avoiding contradictions, only avoids creating certain meanings which are intuitively paradoxical, though logically contingent. The argument comes from novel data studying the interaction of only with epistemic modals and conditionals. In the second part of the talk, I show how the new, more selective only can shed light on a wider range of data: in particular, I argue that the source of exhaustivity in pseudo-clefts is a covert only, crucially with the revised semantics.


Speaker:  Christian DiCanio (University of Buffalo)
Date & Time: November 10th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title: Phonetic variation and the construction of a Mixtec spoken language corpus

Abstract: The documentation of endangered languages frequently involves the collection and analysis of a corpus of speech data. To ensure continued access to the corpus, researchers must construct additional layers of annotation. This process is often constrained by patterns of phonetic variation, but such patterns also open up new areas of research in both speech production and phonology. In this talk, I discuss the interplay between the construction of a spoken language corpus of Yoloxóchitl Mixtec (Otomanguean: Mexico) from a language documentation project and the patterns of phonetic variation which have been investigated along the way. I address three main issues of relevance to linguistic theory and phonetics: (1) How does speech style influence speech production and how might this affect the creation of a spoken language corpus? (2) How do variable morphophonological rules impact corpus segmentation? and (3) What principles account for surface phonetic variation? Can such variation be predicted and automatically annotated? Together, these topics address issues of increasing importance in the fields of corpus phonetics, speech processing, and language documentation.


Speaker:  Lucie Ménard (Université de Québec à Montreal)
Date & Time: December 1st at 3:30 pm
Place:  Arts Bldg. W-20
Title:  Reaching goals with limited means: Production-perception relationships in blind children and adults

Abstract:  In face-to-face conversation, speech is produced and perceived through various modalities. Movements of the lips, jaw, and tongue, for instance, modulate air pressure to produce a complex waveform perceived by the listener’s ears. Visually salient articulatory movements (of the lips and jaw) also contribute to speech perception. Although many studies have been conducted on the role of visual components in speech perception, much less is known about their role in speech production. In this presentation, we discuss the emergence and refinement of production-perception relationships through a series of studies conducted with typically developing and blind individuals (children and adults). Acoustic, kinematic, and perceptual data collected in contexts representing various degrees of saliency requirements will be presented. We will show how sensory templates built from impoverished input influence production strategies.


Winter 2018


Speaker:  Sharon Goldwater (University of Edinburgh)
Date & Time: January 12th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Bootstrapping language acquisition


The semantic bootstrapping hypothesis proposes that children break into the syntactic system of their native language by inferring from the situational context a structured semantic representation for (some) words or utterances. Assuming a correspondence between semantic structure and syntactic structure allows the child to begin to acquire native language syntax.

In this talk I will describe a Bayesian probabilistic model of semantically bootstrapped child language acquisition. The model learns from pairs of sentences and their (noisy) meaning representations, extracted from a real child-directed corpus. It *jointly* models both (a) word learning: the mapping between components of the givensentential meaning and wordforms, and (b) syntax learning: word order and the mapping between wordforms and their syntactic categories. I will show how this joint model accounts for several well-documented phenomena from the developmental literature. In particular, the model exhibits syntactic bootstrapping effects (in which previously learned constructions facilitate the learning of novel words), sudden jumps in learning without explicit parameter setting, acceleration of word-learning (the "vocabulary spurt"), an initial bias favoring the learning of nouns over verbs, and one-shot learning of words and their meanings. The learner thus demonstrates how statistical learning over structured representations can provide a unified account for these seemingly disparate phenomena.


Speaker:  Karen Jesney (University of Southern California)
Date & Time: April 27th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Leacock 210
Title:  Constraint Scaling Factors and Patterns of Variation in Phonology


Language systems characterized by high levels of variability offer unique possibilities for probing the structure of the phonological grammar. This talk examines data from developing L1 phonologies and loanword adaptation patterns, and argues that scaling of constraint values within a system of weighted constraints offers the most direct means of encoding the attested effects.

Two case studies are presented. The first case study looks at words that contain multiple sources of syllable-structure markedness, focusing on data from the twelve Dutch- acquiring children in the CLPF corpus (Fikkert 1994, Levelt 1994). The overall finding is that accurate realization of marked coda structures increases the probability that marked onset structures will be accurately realized by the child.  These effects cannot be reduced to either age or the frequency with which the marked structures are attempted.  The second case study examines the realization of marginal segments in a corpus of Québec French borrowings from English (Roy 1992), and finds evidence for similar interactions at the level of segmental realization.  Given that one marked structure is realized accurately, the probability increases that other marked structures will also be realized accurately.  Other loanword data show related implicational patterns.

I argue these interactions are best modeled through scaling of constraint values within a probabilistic weighted constraint grammar – either Noisy Harmonic Grammar (Boersma & Pater 2008) or Maximum Entropy OT (Goldwater & Johnson 2003). Constraint scaling factors co-exist with basic constraints weights, and can be keyed both to grammatical factors like prosodic position, and to non-phonological factors like word frequency and attention.  The result is a model that captures the attested interactions between marked structures within words while avoiding the pitfalls of previous accounts that are too restrictive to accurately model the full range of variation.


Speaker:  Susana Béjar (University of Toronto)
Date & Time:  February 23rd at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Person, Agree, and Derived Predicates

Abstract:  Person features have played a prominent role in models of argument licensing, case and agreement over the past two decades. Within the theory of Agree, person features have been manipulated to account for a range of intricate patterns including non-canonical locality effects (e.g. hierarchy effects), ineffabilities (e.g. PCC effects) and differential argument marking (e.g. DOM). Overwhelmingly, work in this area has been based on structures with verbal predicates. In this talk I put the spotlight on verbless structures — specifically, copular clauses with nominal complements — and challenges that they present to person-driven approaches, in particular unexpected locality patterns and ineffabilities. I argue that both challenges benefit from viewing nominal complements of copular clauses as derived predicates in a sense similar to Landau (2011), that is to say I take them to involve (reduced) clausal complements. The distribution of φ-features in clausal complements, and the operations these are subject to, can explain the unusual locality patterns and ineffabilities alluded to above.


Speaker:  Elizabeth Coppock (Boston University)
Date & Time:  March 23rd at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Speedbumps on the compositional route to proportional MOST

Abstract:  Recent work has suggested that the proportional interpretation of English "most" is not lexically arbitrary but rather compositionally derived as the superlative of "many". Based on broad cross-linguistic evidence, we caution that the compositional route there is fraught. Investigation of a geographically, genetically, and typologically diverse set of languages shows that proportional readings of quantity superlatives are highly typologically marked, and relative readings are universal. We argue that proportional interpretations are marked because they depend on violations of certain default semantic principles: (i) quantity words denote gradable predicates of degrees, rather than individuals, and (ii) comparison among any set of entities involves comparison among a set of individuals. We also find that proportional readings arise with a quite limited range of morphosyntactic strategies for forming superlatives, suggesting that analogical pressure from other quantifiers in the lexicon may help in overcoming these hindrances.


Speaker:  Daniel Pape (McMaster University)
Date & Time: April 13th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title: Linking speech production to speech perception: A cross-linguistic comparison of the phonological voicing contrast and its phonetic realization  


How do we form phonemic categories? How is speech perception linked to the articulatory and acoustic production of speech? These are classic phonetic questions but are still controversially debated today. In my talk I will present a number of phonetic experiments to approach these questions. I will discuss (1) how the cognitive system is intricately linked to the speech production system for the phonological voicing contrast; (2) how cross-linguistic differences in Romance languages surface in perception compared to production; and (3) how several acoustic cues of the speech signal are used with varying weights to form a robust phoneme identification. I conclude my talk with an excursion into audio-visual speech perception by presenting a phonetic experiment examining the effect of facial hair on speech intelligibility.