The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 5th, 2012

Phonology Circle 11/5 - Maria Giavazzi

Speaker: Maria Giavazzi (CNRS)
Title: A linguistic deficit in Huntington’s disease? Preliminary evidence from a dissociation between production and perception in a morpho-phonological task
Date/Time: Monday, Nov 5, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

There is a lively debate in the recent literature about whether the striatum holds a specific role in linguistic processing, or whether it contributes to linguistic processing indirectly, through its role in executive control, memory and attention (Ulmann 2004; Teichmann et al. 2005, 2008; Chan et al. 2012; Mestres-Missé et al. 2012).

Huntington’s Disease (HD) offers a unique model of primarily atrophy of the striatum with simultaneous decline in various cognitive functions. Although language impairment in this disease has been described in the literature (Teichmann et al., 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, Sambin et al. 2012), evidence is scattered and the specific nature of the deficit has yet to be understood.

In this talk I present data from two experiments conducted with French HD patients. The experiments tested the morphophonological knowledge of the patients, looking specifically at gender alternations within the adjectival paradigm (e.g. [petit] FEM- [peti] MASC ‘small’ ). Although patients had been previously reported to be impaired in a similar task, I show that the deficit is present in a production task, but absent in perception (grammaticality judgment task). I discuss a possible grammatical explanation for this data and try to put it in the wider context of the role of the striatum in language and other linguistic deficits observed in this disease.

Data collection was completed only very recently and its analysis is still in its early stages. I am looking forward to comments and discussion.

Syntax Square 11/6 - Hadas Kotek

Speaker: Hadas Kotek
Title: Wh-coordination in free relatives (Barbara Citko/Martina Gracanin-Yuksek, NELS43)
Date/Time: Tuesday, Nov 6, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Hadas will present Barbara Citko (University of Washington) and Martina Gracanin-Yuksek’s (METU) recent talk at NELS43. The abstract is available here (pdf).

Ling-Lunch 11/8 - Jonathan Barnes

Speaker: Jonathan Barnes (BU)
Title: Title:
Date/Time: Thursday, Nov 8, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Much of the recent history of research in intonational phonology could fairly be characterized as an ongoing debate between so-called “configuration-based” and “level-based” approaches to the primitive elements that comprise representations of intonation contours. Configuration-based models understand intonation in terms of dynamic elements, such as rises and falls, while level-based models deal instead in static pitch-level targets (primarily Highs and Lows). As phonological opinion has settled in favor of level-based theories, it has been tempting to see a direct instantiation of phonological tone levels in local F0 turning points (e.g., maxima and minima, hereafter TPs). The study of F0 TPs from this point of view has uncovered substantial systematicity both in how tonal movements align with the segmental skeleton of an utterance, and in how they are scaled with respect to each other in the frequency domain. However, serious problems have surfaced as well: TP-locations are often ambiguous, or even unrecoverable, from the F0 record. Worse still, evidence suggests that a host of difficult-to-quantify aspects of global contour shape influence perception of contour identity, potentially overriding TP-based evidence under the right circumstances. Listeners, in other words, attend to precisely those aspects of the signal that standard level-based models predict they should ignore. In this talk, I will present evidence from paired perception and production studies involving intonation patterns in American English, in support of a new approach to the phonetics and phonology of intonation. This model, based on the notion of Tonal Center of Gravity (TCoG), captures key insights from configuration-based approaches, without abandoning the central tenets of a level-based intonational phonology. It also makes a variety of predictions concerning tonal implementation and the structure of tone inventories that are not accessible in traditional level-based terms. One of these I explore further in the context of tonal co-occurrence patterns in Chinese languages.

MIT Linguists at BUCLD

The 37th BU Conference on Language Development (BUCLD 37) took place this past weekend at Boston University. Among the presentations were:

  • Ayaka Sugawara, Hadas Kotek, Martin Hackl and Ken Wexler: “Long vs. short QR: Evidence from the acquisition of ACD”
  • Jeremy Hartman, Yasutada Sudo and Ken Wexler: “Principle B and phonologically reduced pronouns in child English”

Linguistics Colloquium - Mark Baker - POSTPONED

Mark Baker’s colloquium for Friday has been cancelled due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy. It will be rescheduled for a later date.