The acquisition of noun classes: Phonology wins

Annie Gagliardi, Jeffrey Lidz. (2014). Statistical Insensitivity in the Acquisition of Tsez Noun Classes. Language. PDF.

Annie Gagliardi. Source: University of Maryland

This article looks “at the acquisition of noun classes, a problem that allows us to differentiate between the input, or the information available to a learner in the environment, and the intake, the information that a learner makes use of in constructing a grammar” . . . “In the acquisition of Tsez noun classes we find that input and intake do differ. While Tsez-acquiring children appear to make use of both noun-external and noun-internal distributional information, their use of noun-internal distributional information is selective. Instead of using semantic cues, which both adults and statistical models find to be the most reliable information, children use less reliable phonological information.”

Oxford Bibliographies: Classifiers and noun classes (Alexandra Aikhenvald). Gender (Jenny Audring). The Tsez language.
ScienceDaily: Sound trumps meaning in first language learning.

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The neural code that makes us human

From Science : Yosef Grodzinsky and Israel Nelken comment on Nima Mesgarani’s et al. recent finding about phonetic feature encoding in the human superior temporal gyrus.

Access from Hebrew University Website

“Speech representation in the auditory cortex … is governed by acoustic features, but not by just any acoustic features—the features that dominate speech representation are precisely those that are associated with abstract, linguistically defined distinctive features. Mesgarani et al., who base their investigation on linguistic distinctions, further demonstrate that features are distinguishable by the degree of the neural invariance they evoke, forming an order that is remarkably in keeping with old linguistic observations: Manner of articulation (manifesting early in developing children) produces a neural invariance that is more prominent than that related to place of articulation (manifesting late in children). A hierarchy noted in 1941 for language acquisition is now resurfacing as part of the neural sensitivity to speech sounds.”

What is so interesting about Mesgarani’s et al. finding is that they identified neural correlates of the very same phonetic features that had been posited by linguists who were stating generalizations about the sound patterns of natural languages. The pioneers in this field were Roman Jakobson and Nikolai Trubetzkoi. Jakobson and Trubetzkoi worked from their armchairs. But, with their razor-sharp analytic minds, they saw abstract patterns in natural languages. Since the patterns were so abstract, it is unlikely that they would have been discovered by neuroscientists alone. Experts on languages needed to see the patterns and develop theories of how they could be generated by a combinatorial mechanism of features. At that point, the question of neural correlates for the representation of speech sounds could be asked in a meaningful way. To be sure, Mesgarani et al. did NOT find the neural code that makes us human. That’s exaggerated. But their work is a model of how insights from linguistics might be ‘transferred’ to cognitive neuroscience.

Phonology and the brain: it’s all in the features. By Itziar Laka.

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Conditionals: Dorothy Edgington

A festschrift for Dorothy Edgington is in the making. It’s not a secret: Conditionals, Probability, and Paradox: Themes from the Philosophy of Dorothy Edgington. Lee Walters and John Hawthorne (eds), OUP.

Here is my contribution to the volume: Chasing Hook. Quantified Indicative Conditionals. Here is Sabine Iatridou’s contribution. And here is Edgington’s chapter on conditionals in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Proceedings | Amsterdam Colloquium 2013

 Amsterdam Colloquium 2013.

I didn’t submit a paper for the proceedings, but here are my slides: Modality and the semantics of embedding.

Kratzer: Semantics of Embedding

My talk was the last talk in a workshop on modality. I started out with an overview of some major changes in our understanding of the semantics of modality before moving on to my special topic, the semantics of embedding.

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New Books: Gennaro Chierchia

Gennaro Chierchia: “I spent my intellectual life studying how meaning takes shape in language. A common thread in my work is the idea/claim/speculation that a logic (a way of drawing inferences) spontaneously grows and latches on to the syntactic structures produced by our capacity for recursive computation. This ‘natural logic’ gives a special power to our ability to use language to communicate and refer, a power not found in other species.”

grammar-meaning logic-in-grammar








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Sinn und Bedeutung 18: Videos

Sinn und Bedeutung 18.

Benjamin Spector, Corien Bay & Emar Maier, Guillaume Thomas, Andreea Nicolae, Florian Schwarz & Jacopo Romoli, Maribel Romero, Berit Gehrke & Louise McNally, Lelia Glass, Moshe Levin & Daniel Margulis, Gregory Scontras, Cheng-Yu Edwin Tsai, Kenneth May, & Maria Polinsky, Yaron McNabb & Doris Penka, Kristina Liefke, Gennaro Chierchia, David Barner, Salvador Mascarenhas, Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, Jeremy Kuhn, Karlos Arregi, Itamar Francez, & Martina Martinovic, Mythili Menon & Roumyana Pancheva.

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The dynamic, inquisitive, and visionary life of ϕ, ?ϕ, and ◇ϕ

A festschrift for Jeroen Groenendijk, Martin Stokhof, and Frank Veltman.


Johan van Benthem: Suave radicals. “While the inner sanctum of the Montague system are eternal homomorphisms between the algebras of natural and formal languages, GSV started looking at the dynamic agency behind natural language, as was also done by Lewis, Stalnaker and Kamp, but quickly developing one seminal new theme after another in their own distinctive style at the interface of semantics and pragmatics. One of these themes is the nature of information, perhaps the main currency created and conveyed by natural language. Look at the data semantics of Veltman, or the early work of Groenendijk & Stokhof with van Emde Boas on knowledge, and you will see how this played around 1980. The other main theme, forming a natural unity with the first, is communication between language users, which eventually led to dynamic semantics of the 1980s and 1990s, with classics such as Dynamic Predicate Logic and Defaults in Update Semantics where the potential for changing hearer information is at the heart of the meaning of linguistic expressions. These ideas were developed by paying close attention to carefully selected facts from natural language, concerning anaphora, questions, and conditionals, the way expert geologists detect the presence of gold seams by looking at small, but telling facts of rock coloring or vegetation. In doing all this, GSV achieved something that is rare for academics: they set the international agenda of research of their field, instead of following it.”

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Hans Kamp: Selected Papers

Edited by Klaus von Heusinger & Alice ter Meulen

Edited by Klaus von Heusinger & Alice ter Meulen


Celebrating Hans Kamp’s Selected Writings in Amsterdam

From interview with Alice ter Meulen: “The lack of mutual interest between Chomsky and Montague – to the extent that there was any perception of the other’s achievements, it seems to have been largely negative – may seem strange in one way, since they were motivated by the same deep insight and concern: that natural languages, for reasons that we now find commonplace, but that weren’t at the time, were subject to far greater systematicity than had been assumed until then or at least than anyone had been prepared to openly assert. The relation between form and meaning, they both saw clearly and posited emphatically, had to be essentially lawlike, and for natural languages this had to be in some important sense by ‘design’ – just as for formal languages, even if the designing and the designers were different.”


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