The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 8th, 2010

Phonology Circle 11/8 - Natalie Boll-Avetisyan

Speaker: Natalie Boll-Avetisyan (Utrecht/Potsdam)
Title: Does the lexicon bootstrap phonotactics or vice versa?
Time: Monday Nov 8, 5pm, 32-D831

Speech segmentation is a prerequisite to lexical acquisition. The distribution of phonemes in speech provides important cues to word boundaries: Co-occurrence probabilities of phonemes are generally higher within than across words. Infants rely on phonotactic cues in segmentation (e.g. Mattys, Jusczyk, Luce, & Morgan, 1999), but: where does phonotactic knowledge come from?

It has been generally assumed that phonotactics is derived from lexical knowledge (Juszcyk, Luce, & Charles-Luce, 1994). This theory has advantages: Learners would only need to acquire which sound sequences typically occur within words. When listening to continuous speech, infants merely need to attend to cues to which sequences need to be chunked, and the word boundaries would fall out themselves (e.g. Perruchet & Pacton, 2006). From an infant’s perspective, however, a paradox arises: Facilitative cues from phonotactics for segmentation could only be acquired after the onset of lexical acquisition. Avoiding this paradox, phoneme distributions in continuous speech might be proposed as an alternative source of phonotactic knowledge, which has the additional advantage of containing not only chunking information, but also information about low-probable sequences, which should be split (Adriaans & Kager, 2010).

We hypothesize that the prior source of phonotactics is continuous speech, and that infants use knowledge of both over- and underrepresentations of consonant co-occurrences as a cue for speech segmentation. We focus on infants’ knowledge of the probabilities of non-adjacent pairs of phonemes as a cue for speech segmentation. Non-adjacent dependencies are cross-linguistically common (e.g. OCP, McCarthy, 1986) and have been found to influence segmentation in infants (vowel harmony, Van Kampen Parmaksiz, van de Vijver, & Höhle, 2008). Regarding that non-adjacent dependendies are more difficult to acquire than adjacent dependencies, and learning might require additional cues, we used dependencies of identical consonants for our study. In Dutch infant-directed speech (van de Weijer, 1998), some CVC sequences with identical Cs (e.g. /pVp/) are over-represented, and others (e.g. /sVs/) are under-represented. We predict Dutch infants to chunk /pVp/, but split /sVs/ in segmentation.

This was tested in two artificial language (AL) segmentation experiments using the head-turn preference procedure. In Experiment 1, 9 and 15 month-olds were familiarized with an AL that employed 6 syllables, of which four started with /p/ (p1={pe, po}, p2={pa, pe}) and two with /t/ (t={ta, to}), each assigned to a fixed slot and concatenated into a speech stream without pauses (…p1p2tp1p2tp1p2t…). Transitional probabilities between syllables were held constant, rendering three possible segmentations: ptp, ppt, or tpp. If overrepresentation of /pVp/ is used for segmentation, ptp should be dispreferred. Unexpectedly, infants did not exhibit a looking preference for either ptp-words (e.g. /patape/) or ppt-words (e.g. /popata/).

Experiment 2 tested whether 15-month olds use the under-representation of /sVs/ as a segmentation cue in a similar AL, with /p/ replaced by /s/, and /t/ by /x/ (…s1s2xs1s2xs1s2x…). Here, infants had a novelty preference for ssx-words (e.g. /sosaxa/), suggesting that during familiarization, they had split /sVs/ and consequently heard sxs-words (e.g. /saxase/). Furthermore, there was an interaction of the experiments testing /sVs/ and /pVp/. This indicates that that the distribution of specific sequences in the input affects segmentation, rather than some innate bias for either grouping or splitting identical consonants.

The results indicate that during infancy, splitting cues might be more relevant than chunking cues in speech segmentation. This suggests that the source of phonotactic knowledge is continuous speech rather than the lexicon.

Adriaans, F. & Kager, R. (2010). Adding generalization to statistical learning: The induction of phonotactics from continuous speech. Journal of Memory and Language, 62, 311-331.
Mattys, S., Jusczyk P., Luce, P., and Morgan, J. (1999). Phonotactic and prosodic effects on word segmentation in Infants. Cognitive Psychology 38, 465-494.
Jusczyk, P.W., Luce, P.A., & Charles-Luce, J. (1994). Infants sensitivity to phonotactic patterns in the native language. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 630-645.
McCarthy, J. (1986). OCP effects: gemination and antigemination. Linguistic Inquiry, 17, 207-263.
Perruchet, P. & Pacton, S. (2006): Implicit learning and statistical learning: one phenomenon, two approaches. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10(5), 233-238.
Van Kampen, A., Parmaksiz, G., van de Vijver, R. & Höhle, B. (2008). Metrical and statistical cues for word segmentation: vowel harmony and word stress as cues to word boundaries by 6- and 9-month old turkish learners. In A. Gavarró & M. J. Freitas (eds.) (2008). Language Acquisition and Development. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 313-324.
Weijer, J. van de (1998). Language-Input for Word Discovery. P.h.D. Thesis. Max-Planck Series in Psycholinguistics 9.

Upcoming talks:
Nov 15: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Nov 29: RUMMIT Practice talks
Dec 6: Suyeon Yun (MIT)

You can view the current, up-to-date version of the schedule here (click ‘agenda’ to see the schedule as a list), or subscribe via iCal here.

Syntax Square 11/9 - Erik Schoorlemmer

Please join us for Syntax Square this week:

Speaker: Erik Schoorlemmer
Title: The indirect licensing of agreement on Germanic attributive adjectives
Time: Tuesday, November 9, 1-2PM
Place: 32-D461

In most Germanic languages, attributive adjectives display an agreement asymmetry. Depending on properties of D (like definiteness or the presence of agreement), these adjectives display either full agreement with the noun or no (or only partial) agreement. The inflection of adjectives displaying full agreement is often referred to as ‘strong inflection’, while its counterpart marking only partial or the absence of agreement is called ‘weak inflection’ (Grimm 1871; Zwicky 1986). In this talk, I propose that agreement on attributive adjectives is always licensed indirectly by a third element that mediates between the adjective and the noun. I then argue that weak adjectival inflection, i.e. no agreement or only partial agreement on the adjective, is licensed in case the mediating element is (partially) blocked as a mediator for independent reasons. Strong adjectival inflection, i.e. full agreement on the adjective, occurs in case the mediating element is not blocked.

LFRG 11/10: Guillaume Thomas on additive “more” and “another”

WHO: Guillaume Pierre Yves Thomas
WHAT: Additive “more” and “another”
WHEN: November 10, 1:30PM-3:00PM
WHERE: 32-D831

Both “more” and “(an)other” can be used to express additivity in DPs [(1) and (2)] or in adverbial phrases [(3) and (4)]:

  • (1) Today in Detroit I witnessed 2 more accidents.
  • (2) Today in Detroit I witnessed another 2 accidents.
  • (3) You’ve got 2 more hours to enter today’s final drawing for a trip to LA for the Emmys Red Carpet.
  • (4) You’ve got another 2 hours to enter today’s final drawing for a trip to LA for the Emmys Red Carpet.

However, the distributions of additive “more” and “(an)other” are different with stative predicates. Whereas additive “more” cannot be used in the degree argument of a gradable stative predicate [c.f. (5) and (6)], “(an)other” is attested in this context [c.f. (7)]:

  • (5) *The washi and bamboo kite is six inches in diameter with an extended spar three more inches long.
  • (6) The washi and bamboo kite is six inches in diameter with an extended spar another three inches longer. [comparative reading only]
  • (7) The washi and bamboo kite is six inches in diameter with an extended spar another three inches long.

In this talk, I will consider possible analyses of additive “more” and “(an)other”. I will use the data in (5)/(7) to argue that additive “more” is a pluractional operator that quantifies over eventualities, while “another” does not relate to eventualities.

MIT Linguistics Colloquium 11/12 - Caroline Heycock

Speaker: Caroline Heycock, University of Edinburgh
Title: Riding the tail of the S-shaped curve: detecting the end of a syntactic change in Faroese.
Date: Friday, November 12, 2010
Time: 3:30-5:00PM
Place: 32-155 (PLEASE NOTE ROOM)

Since the seminal work of Jonas 1996, the Scandinavian language Faroese has been considered to be a crucial test case for claims concerning the relation or lack of it between agreement morphology and verb movement. In this language, syncretism has expanded in the agreement system, and Jonas argued that there are now two dialects, one in which verb movement over negation has been lost entirely, and one in which verb movement is optional, although preferred. In this talk I will present new data from a 3-year project on the status of verb movement in current Faroese. I will argue that there is no evidence for dialectal variation; more surprisingly, there is also no evidence of generational difference. I will claim that it is nevertheless possible to detect in Faroese the prints of a syntactic change that is not yet quite complete: a change at the very tail of the S-shaped curve.

MIT Workshop on Comparatives - 11/13

This coming weekend, MIT will be hosting the MIT Workshop on Comparatives which will bring together researchers from the Cambridge area (and beyond!) to discuss the syntax/semantics of comparative (and related) constructions in a variety of languages.

WHAT: MIT Workshop on Comparatives
WHERE: 32-D461
WHEN: Saturday the 13th (10am - 5:45pm), Sunday the 14th (10am - 4pm)

Invited talks:

  • Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst): “The Derivation and Distribution of than-Clauses”
  • Roger Schwarzchild (Rutgers): “‘Incomplete’ Comparatives (no comparative marker or no standard phrase)”
  • Bernhard Schwarz and Junko Shimoyama (McGill): “Epistemic Wa and Negative Islands in Japanese”