Author Archives: Michael

Mack colloquium Friday November 12 at 3:30

Jennifer Mack (Department of Communication Disorders and Graduate Program in Neuroscience and Behavior, UMass Amherst) will present “Comprehending speakers with aphasia: What are the effects of aphasia education?” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 12, in ILC S331. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Aphasia is a language disability caused by damage to the brain (most commonly a stroke) that affects over 2 million people in the US, resulting in difficulty in communicating one’s thoughts even though intelligence remains intact. Despite the prevalence and societal impacts of aphasia, fewer than 10% of US adults know what aphasia is. Many people with aphasia (PWA) find low public knowledge of aphasia to be one of the most challenging aspects of living with aphasia, and a substantial barrier to communicating successfully. However, no research has examined the effects of education about aphasia on the ability to communicate successfully with PWA. In this talk, I will discuss a new line of research investigating the effects of aphasia education on non-aphasic listeners’ comprehension of speakers with aphasia. First, I will synthesize two relevant lines of prior research: (1) the communication disorders literature on how education of listeners impacts their perception of speakers with communication disabilities and (2) the psycholinguistic literature examining how language comprehension adapts to atypical speech/language input. Then, I will present preliminary results from an eye-tracking experiment testing whether aphasia education impacts listeners’ online comprehension of a speaker with aphasia. Finally, I will discuss potential implications of this work for aphasia education campaigns as well as understanding how the language comprehension system adapts to neurologically diverse speakers.

Akkuș colloquium Friday November 5 at 3:30

Our own Faruk Akkuș will present “Cross-referencing oblique arguments in Kurdish varieties” (joint work with Mohammed Salih and David Embick) in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 5, in an unexpected location: ILC S331. That’s neither ILC N400, nor Zoom. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

This study examines the system of argument indexation patterns in various Iranian languages with split-ergativity, focusing on Standard (Sulimaniyah) Sorani (SSK), Garmiani Sorani (GK) and Laki varieties. Our analysis of these patterns identifies a hitherto understudied Oblique/Oblique alignment system in GK, and has a number of implications for how phi-features are realized.

Focusing on the indexing effects shown by a certain type of possessor, along with the prepositional-arguments of ditransitives, we demonstrate that such effects are sensitive to abstract case features, rather than an alignment split per se (or avoidance of clitic-stacking). We also argue that the indexing patterns suggest an indirect relationship between morpho-syntactic operations and morpho-phonological realization, thus Sorani provides arguments against a substantive “clitic versus agreement” dichotomy. “Agreement” forms are sometimes moved clitics, and “clitic” forms are sometimes the result of Agree.

UMass linguists and alumni at AMP 2021

This year’s Annual Meetings on Phonology (AMP) will be zoomed from Toronto, October 1–3. The Annual Meetings on Phonology began as Phonology 2013 here at UMass.

Current students and faculty will present talks and posters:

Our alumni will be presenting as well:

Summer Activity at the Center for the Study of African American Language

Fund for Teachers Fellow (2021) Brittanee Rolle, a 12th grade English teacher at Butler College Prep (of Noble Network of Charter Schools) on the South Side of Chicago, IL, spent time at the Center for the Study of African American Language (CSAAL) in June. According to the mission statement, Fund for Teachers strengthens instruction by investing in outstanding teachers’ self- determined professional growth and development in order to support student success, enrich their own practice, and strengthen their schools and communities. Ms. Rolle received a grant to learn about ways in which professors, museums, and classroom teachers have developed strategies to embrace and explore African American English (AAE) while teaching Standard American English. Her philosophy of education is to not demand that children of color give up what they are to become something else, yet to give them the tools to demand the world to make room for them. During her time at CSAAL, Ms. Rolle engaged in discussions about linguistic approaches to the study of AAE, and she explored ways linguistic descriptions of AAE could be useful in classroom practice, especially in projects, lessons, and instruction in literature. During her visit, Ms. Rolle met with three CSAAL research assistants and linguistics majors, Dan DeGenaro, Samuel Lederer, and Chloe Ostiguy, via Zoom to hear about some of the child and adult AAE data they have been analyzing. Ms. Rolle also attended a session with Professor Kristine Yu (Linguistics), who talked about a current sounds project on the tense/aspect marker BIN in AAE and introduced some apps and software that can be used in classrooms to project visual illustrations of differences in pitch patterns and contours that might be associated with different constructions.

Founded in 2006, CSAAL in Humanities and Fine Arts is a center of excellence in research on the various dimensions of African American language and a resource for communities across the country, with a commitment to furnishing information and training to teachers and other professionals who address issues of language and dialect used by children in school and pre-school environments.

Incoming class of 2021

We are delighted to introduce to you our very accomplished incoming class! Here they are:

  • Özge Bakay, who says:
    “I am Özge (she/her) from Istanbul, Turkey (although originally from Bursa, known as “the green city of Turkey”). I mainly work on Turkish and Laz and I really enjoy psycholinguistics and prosody. Also, I can’t help thinking about how to learn more stuff about computational linguistics, especially during the times when I am not even supposed to be thinking such as during shavasana, which is basically at the end of my every single yoga practice.”
  • Peyton Deal, who says:
    “I’m Peyton (he/him), and I’m from Minnesota. I work mainly on Māori and other Polynesian languages. Several of my interests are phonology, phonetics, metathesis, and vowel hiatus. My hobbies include brutalist architecture and nature walks, and I like to read poetry, fiction, and sci-fi.”
  • Eva Neu, who says:
    “I’m Eva and I focus on syntax and the syn-sem interface. I did my undergrad in Berlin before getting a Master’s in Linguistics and a British accent at UCL. I like dance and yoga, continental philosophy and obsessing about punctuation. My pronouns are she/her.”
  • Breanna Pratley, who says:
    “Hi! I’m Breanna! I come from a small town in Ontario, Canada whose slogan is “It’s worth the drive”. I work on psycholinguistics, formal syntax, and their interface. I also like glitter, dinosaurs, and overenthusiastically decorating my planner. My pronouns are she/her.”

Biezma colloquium Friday March 26 at 3:30

Our own María Biezma will present “Life on the loose” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday March 26. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

Insubordinated clauses (see Evans 2007) across languages are often associated with a wide range of meanings not present in their subordinated counterparts. A given insubordinated clause is often said to be able to convey surprise, commands, reports etc., depending on the context of utterance. The disparity between the associated meanings has often led to proposals arguing that the original complementizer has acquired different meanings in insubordinated contexts and the speaker is then facing an ambiguity that is resolved in the context of utterance.

In this talk I will investigate a case of insubordination in Spanish that has been discussed in the literature in the terms described above. Instead of defending an ambiguity analysis, I will argue that a unified analysis is possible once we look beyond the sentence level and revisit the data from this perspective. At the theoretical level, the claim is that we can explain how potentially unrelated meanings are brought about by considering that utterances are proposals to update the context and taking into account the relation between utterances and the proposed update.

Lau colloquium Friday March 12 at 3:30

Ellen Lau, University of Maryland, will present “New ways forward in neurolinguistics: more thought, less words” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday March 12. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

Figuring out the neural underpinnings of language processing is hard; we have to hold onto so many pieces from different disciplines that it’s easy for a few basics to fall off our ‘stack’. I’ll discuss a few that I’ve recently remembered myself, and that give me hope that I could actually have a few coherent things to say when I’m supposed to teach what is known about the neuroanatomy of language processing. First, we neuroscientists of language too often conflate language with non-linguistic thought and conceptual knowledge systems. We forget that when we observe ‘semantic’ neural responses, they may often reflect the activity of these non-linguistic conceptual systems, and we miss too many relevant insights about these systems from research in other domains of cognitive science. Changing my ways, here I will draw from theories about parietal cortex’s role in binding object representations in visual scene perception, to hypothesize that its responses during language comprehension reflect something like the binding of conceptual properties to discourse files. Second, following others in the field (Fedorenko et al. 2020, Matchin & Hickok 2020), I’ll note that neuroscience of language has been missing explicit representational theories about stored language knowledge—the ‘lexicon’—and that this has been blocking our progress on neuroanatomical models of syntax. The folk idea that language is a bunch of simple sound-to-meaning pairs (‘words’) is rooted deep in our collective psyche, and even when we publicly disavow it, ‘under the hood’ it continues to shape how we develop our neuroscience of language theories and how we reason about our experiments. Looking at some problematic cases in my own past work, I’ll argue that as a field we need to stop using vague/incoherent terminology like ‘word’ and ‘lexico-semantic’, and instead commit to sketching out explicit assumptions about how our rich language knowledge is organized every time we embark on an investigation of the neural basis of language production or comprehension.

Georgi colloquium March 5

Doreen Georgi, University of Potsdam, presented “How to account for resumptives in movement chains: insights from Igbo” in the Linguistics colloquium series March 5. An abstract follows.

In this talk I will address the general problem of how we can model the pronunciation of lower chain links when the lower copy is realized in a reduced form such as a resumptive pronoun. There are two main approaches in the literature: BigDP/stranding and spell-out approaches. Both approaches have quite general (conceptual as well as empirical) short-comings, and hence none of them can be considered the standard / widely accepted approach. Van Urk (2018) provides new arguments that favor a spell-out approach that makes use of partial copy deletion. His arguments are based on cross-linguistic patterns of phi-mismatches between the pronounced chain links. In the talk, I will present novel data from my recent (co-authored) work on resumption in Igbo (Benue-Kwa, Nigeria). The phi-mismatch pattern in Igbo is more complex than previously described patterns; in fact, it raises new challenges for a spell-out approach (and also for a BigDP approach) to chain link realization.

Culbertson colloquium Friday February 26 at 2:30

Jennifer Culbertson, University of Edinburgh, will present “Experimental evidence for learning biases in word and morpheme order” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 2:30 Friday February 26. Notice the different time – one hour earlier than usual. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

Recent research has suggested that the cross-linguistic and language-internal frequencies of particular word and morpheme orders might be shaped by constraints on processing combined with learned distributional information (e.g., Hupp et al. 2009, Futrell et al. 2015, Hahn et al. 2020). In this talk I discuss a set of three experiments investigating this claim using artificial language experiments. In the first two sets of experiments, I show that at least some constraints on nominal word and morpheme order in fact reflect universal learning biases, present across populations, independent of their native language. I argue that these biases are driven by simplicity and aspects of meaning, not frequency or other distributional information. In the third set of experiments, I address a well-known claim about the so-called suffixing preference, namely that it results from processing or perception of sequential information. By comparing behavioral results across language populations, I show that is likely not the case. Rather, speakers’ perception adapts to the affix order of their language.

UMass linguists at Biased Questions

UMass visitors, students, and faculty participated in Biased Questions: Experimental Results & Theoretical Modelling, ZOOM Conference Leibniz-Zentrum Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft (ZAS), February 4–5, 2021, Berlin.

  • Discourse biases
    María Biezma (UMass Amherst)
  • Biased questions in English: an acquisition path
    Rebecca Woods (Newcastle University), Tom Roeper (UMass Amherst)
  • Bias in English and German negative polar questions
    Anja Arnhold (University of Alberta Canada & Universität Konstanz), Bettina Braun (Universität Konstanz), Maribel Romero (Universität Konstanz)
  • Focused NPIs in statements and questions
    Sunwoo Jeong (Seoul National University), Floris Roelofsen (University of Amsterdam)