The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

CompLang 10/4 -  Meilin Zhan (MIT BCS)

CompLang is kicking off the semester this Thursday. CompLang is an interdisciplinary language discussion group organized by the Brain and Cognitive Center (BCS) at MIT and composed of linguists, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists. It is an informal group intended to foster communication among a broad and diverse group of people interested in language. Currently we are still looking for presenters for this semester. While presentation of research is certainly welcome, even introductory materials for people with little background in linguistics would be fine – people outside of linguistics are curious what kinds of questions we are thinking about! The presentation does not have to be related to computation either. If you are interested in getting feedback from a diverse audience and want to practice communicating linguistic concepts in simple and accessible terms, please get in touch with Danfeng! And click here if you want to be added to the comp-lang mailing list.


Speaker: Meilin Zhan (MIT BCS)
Title:  Comparing theories of speaker choice using classifier production in Mandarin Chinese  
Date and time: Thursday, October 4, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165 (BCS)

Speakers often have more than one way to express the same meaning. What general principles govern speaker choice in the face of optionality when near semantically invariant alternation exists? Studies have shown that optional reduction in language is sensitive to contextual predictability, where the more predictable a linguistic unit is, the more likely it gets reduced. Yet it is unclear whether speaker choice is geared toward audience design, or toward facilitating production. Here we argue that for a different optionality phenomenon, namely classifier choice in Mandarin Chinese, Uniform Information Density and at least one plausible variant of availability-based production make opposite predictions regarding the relationship between the predictability of the upcoming material and speaker choices. In a corpus analysis of Mandarin Chinese, we show that the distribution of speaker choices supports the availability-based production account, and not Uniform Information Density.