The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 13th, 2008

Cog Lunch 10/14 - Asaf Bachrach

This week’s Cog Lunch features a talk by Asaf Bachrach.

Title: fMRI investigation of incremental language processing in a naturalistic context
Time: 10/14 at 12pm, 46-3189

Our study examined brain activation in a naturalistic language processing task, with a particular focus on the temporal dynamics inherent to this complex cognitive task. Sentence processing, in particular in the auditory modality, is incremental. The structure and associated compositional meaning of a sentence are not provided to the listener instantaneously, but require integration over multiple temporally spaced inputs. Behavioral and electrophysiological evidence (a small sample of which will be reviewed) point out that the human parser makes use of an `eager’ strategy, incrementally constructing the eventual sentential representation based on partial input. In addition, it appears that this incremental strategy is probabilistic and parallel. The parser considers potentially multiple alternative analyses, which are probabilistically weighted. Most behavioral and imaging paradigms used to explore aspects of incremental auditory sentence processing have been limited by the use of qualitative or binary contrasts and by a sparse sampling approach (often only one data point per sentence). In this talk we will present the results of a novel imaging paradigm that attempts to overcome the above limitations.

We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to monitor brain activation while subjects passively listen to short narratives. The texts were written so as to introduce various syntactic complexities (relative clauses, embedded questions, etc.) not usually found (in such density) in actual corpora. With the use of computationally implemented probabilistic parser (taken to represent an ‘ideal listener’) we have calculated a number of temporally dense (one per word) parametric measures reflecting different aspects of the incremental processing of each sentence. We used the resulting measures to model the observed brain activity (BOLD). We were able to identify different brain networks that support incremental linguistic processing and characterize their particular function.

In the talk we will present data regarding the effect of contextually based prediction (or surprisal), distinguishing lexical and syntactic prediction, and the effect of local structural ambiguity, distinguishing the effects of uncertainty from these of reanalysis.

Norvin and David to Turkey

Norvin Richards and David Pesetsky are invited speakers this week at the Second Mediterranean Syntax Meeting in Istanbul. Norvin’s talk is called “Beyond Strength and Weakness: intonation and the distribution of overt movement”, and David will be speaking on “Russian case morphology and the syntactic categories”. Afterwards, Norvin will be travelling on to Ankara, where Martina Gra?anin-Yuksek (2007 PhD) has organized a syntax workshop.

LF reading group Wed 10/15: Jeremy Hartman

Jeremy Hartman will lead a discussion of Phillipe Schlenker’s Expressive Presuppositions on Wednesday at 3PM in 26-310. If you would like to present a paper or would like to see a particular paper discussed, please let us know. More information can be found on the LF Reading Group’s webpage

Phonology Circle 10/15: Olga Vaysman

Olga Vaysman (MIT) will be presenting in this week’s meeting of the Phonology Circle

Title: Segmental Alternations and Metrical Theory
Time: Wed 10/15, 5pm, 32-D831

This talk focuses on segmental alternations that are dependent on word-internal prosody, such as prominence and foot boundaries. Ever since the earliest work in metrical theory that introduced metrical foot (e.g. Liberman and Prince 1977) and in contemporary metrical theory (Hayes (1995), de Lacy (2004), among others) stress has customarily been considered to be synonymous to the notion of the head of the foot; stress is the main diagnostic for foot assignment in languages, as well as the main argument for the very existence of feet as constituents in the grammar. Some researchers, like Gordon (2003) argue that foot structure is not a notion we need to use to account for stress patterns at all.

Stress assignment, however, is not the only evidence for foot structure; segmental phenomena can be sensitive to foot structure as well. If, indeed, stressed vowels head feet, then rhythm-sensitive segmental alternations should follow the same footing pattern. If, on the other hand, the notion of prosodic constituency is independent from stress, we can expect mismatch between stress placement and foot assignment.

By exploring prosody-sensitive segmental alternations, I show that there is empirical, in addition to theory-internal, evidence that prominence and foot structure are distinct entities in the grammar. I further propose an OT-based model to account for the interaction of prosodic constituency and stress assignment.

Ling-lunch 10/16 - Ezra Keshet

Please join us for this week’s Ling-lunch:

Thursday, Oct. 16, 12:30-1:45
Ezra Keshet
“Split Intensionality: A New Theory of the De re/De dicto Distinction”

The traditional scope theory of intensionality (STI) is inadequate, as evidenced by the scope paradoxes discussed in Fodor (1970), Bauerle (1983), and Percus (2000). This talk will therefore propose a replacement for the STI, called split intensionality. Compared to an earlier replacement for the STI, the situation pronoun theory, split intensionality represents a more modest departure. The split intensionality system separates each intensional operator’s quantificational force from its intensional force, by use of a new operator, ^ (after Montague 1970). This move proves enough to solve the problems of the STI without overgenerating — as the situation pronoun theory does. In particular, the talk will focus on new data involving island constraints and negative polarity items that supportsthe split intensionality system over the situation pronoun system.