Author Archives: Michael

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)

Pater on local COVID-19 data

Joe Pater published an article “Western Massachusetts counties now have their highest numbers of new Covid-19 cases since the spring (And why are you learning about that here?)” on his blog Nov. 13th. The article discusses the steep rise in local new COVID-19 cases in the fall, as well as the deficiencies in local data reporting. This work was covered in a Nov. 21 Hampshire Gazette article, and Pater was interviewed about in on Bill Newman’s morning show on WHMP on Nov. 25th. A summary can also be found in this CHFA news piece.

Deniz Özyıldız’s defense December 3 10am

Deniz Özyıldız will defend his dissertation at 10am EST, Thursday, December 3. The title of Deniz’s dissertation is “Attitude Events”. The advisors are Vincent Homer and Rajesh Bhatt, and the committee includes Maria Biezma, Seth Cable and Kristine Yu. A short abstract follows.

Register here:–spj8tHdSqeLytldtLoK11Oyw7z9PM


In this talk, we place the verb “think” and its complement clauses under the microscope and see that “think” with a declarative may describe a state, in (1), and that “think” with a question must describe an event, seen by comparing (2) and (3). The state is a belief, and the event, here, a deliberation.

(1) Anna thinks that she should invite Brian.
(2) #Anna thinks whether she should invite Brian.
(3) Anna is thinking whether she should invite Brian.

Aspectual properties of attitude reports, then, interact with properties that attitude verbs have in virtue of their ability to embed clauses, creating non-trivial differences in meaning as well as apparent restrictions in the distribution of embedded questions. To account for such interactions, we must structure attitude eventualities with structures provided by embedded clause denotations, and so, we work towards a system in which it is possible to do so.

Gribanova colloquium Friday November 13 at 3:30

Vera Gribanova, Stanford University, will present “Negative concord, genitive of negation, and clausal ellipsis in Russian” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 13. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here: 

In this talk, I present an in-progress investigation of interactions between the syntax of polarity in Russian and polarity-sensitive items — negative concord elements (NEG-words) and DPs marked with the genitive of negation (GoN-DPs) — in the environment of clausal ellipsis. Though both NEG-words and GoN-DPs must generally co-occur with clausemate negation in Russian, it has been known for some time that the syntactic licensing conditions for these two phenomena are in fact distinct (Franks and Brown 1995; Brown 1999). In the first part of the talk, I provide a syntax for these licensing conditions and demonstrate that this syntax, in conjunction with the application of clausal (TP) ellipsis, gives rise to the differences we observe between NEG-words and GoN-DPs as fragment answers: NEG-words can be licensed as fragment answers in the absence of an overt expression of negation in the antecedent, but GoN-DPs cannot. These differences in behavior follow from three interrelated commitments: first, that in Russian there is a low position for polarity, association with the expression of sentential negation, and a high one, which is null but semantically interpretable (Brown and Franks, 1995; Brown, 1999; Gribanova, 2017); second, that there can be fronting of the NEG-word to the left periphery in conjunction with TP ellipsis (Giannakidou, 1998; Merchant, 2004); and third, that Russian NEG-words are licensed by the higher instance of polarity (Laka, 1994; Zeijlstra, 2008) while GoN-DPs are licensed by an AGREE relation with the low expression of negation (Franks and Brown 1995, Brown 1999, Harves, 2002, Abels, 2005).
In the second part of the talk, this unified picture meets with a set of challenges that arise from the interaction between Gon-DPs and contrastive polarity ellipsis (Kazenin 2006; Gribanova 2017), in which clausal ellipsis is combined with the fronting of a contrastive DP to the left periphery, preceding a polar particle (‘yes’ or ‘no’). For some native Russian speakers, such configurations give rise to violations of the case connectivity effect usually associated with the phrasal remnant: genitive patients under negation in the antecedent can, in a narrow set of circumstances, correspond to an accusative patient remnant outside the ellipsis site. Although these effects seem to contradict prominent ideas about the identity relation necessary to license ellipsis (Chung 2013, Merchant 2013), I point out that they might be better understood in light of recent work that takes the domain for identity in clausal ellipsis (e.g. in sluicing) to be smaller than has traditionally been assumed (Rudin 2019, Anand, Hardt, McCloskey in progress).

Breen colloquium Friday October 30 at 3:30

Mara Breen, Mount Holyoke, will present “Hierarchical linguistic metric structure in speaking, listening, and reading” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday October 30. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

In this talk, I will describe results from experiments exploring how hierarchical timing regularities in language are realized by speakers, listeners, and readers. First, using a corpus of productions of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat—a highly metrically and phonologically regular children’s book, we show that speakers’ word durations and intensities are accurately predicted by models of linguistic and musical meter, respectively, demonstrating that listeners to these texts receive consistent acoustic cues to hierarchical metric structure. In a second experiment, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) as participants listened to an aprosodic production of The Cat in the Hat. ERP results reveal separable electrophysiological indices of metric and phrasal processing, demonstrating top-down realization of metric structure even in the absence of explicit prosodic cues. In a third experiment, we recorded ERPs while participants silently read metrically regular rhyming couplets where the final word sometimes mismatched the metric or prosodic context. These mismatches elicited ERP patterns similar to responses observed in listening experiments. In sum, these results demonstrate similarities in perceived and simulated hierarchical timing processes in listening and reading and help explain the processes by which listeners use predictable metric structure to facilitate speech segmentation and comprehension.

UMass redesign of Praat logo

Praat (Boersma & Weenink 1991), an open source program for phonetic analysis and phonological grammar modeling, recently received its first logo redesign in nearly thirty years. The new version of the beloved mouth-above-ear logo is the work of our linguistics major Larry (Sichen) Lyu, class of 2022. Bravo, Larry!

Pictured: the old (left) and new (right) Praat logo.

Mantla and Saxon colloquium Friday October 16

Rosa Mantla (Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency, Behchokǫ̀, NWT) and Leslie Saxon (University of Victoria) will present “Community and linguistics: What they mean to us” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday October 16. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

We have collaborated for over three decades in work supported by our organizations. For both of us our focus has included research, documentation, and promotion of the Tłı̨chǫ language, tied in in different ways with other responsibilities of our employment. After introducing ourselves, we will speak about how we have worked with each other on projects that are outside the specific expertise of one of us. Rosa’s role as Tłı̨chǫ language and culture consultant with the Education branch of the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency (TCSA), and Leslie’s as a linguistics professor at the University of Victoria (UVic) have shaped the content and approaches we have taken in our collaboration. We will take turns describing one or two of our projects and give our perspective on the importance of our collaboration to the project’s success. The other person will then reply on what the project meant to her. We hope to learn something about our collaborative process and share that with our audience.

Vasishth colloquium Friday September 25 at 3:30

Shravan Vasishth (, University of Potsdam, will present “Twenty years of retrieval models” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday September. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:


After Newell wrote his 1973 article, “You can’t play twenty questions with nature and win”, several important cognitive architectures emerged for modeling human cognitive processes across a wide range of phenomena. One of these, ACT-R, has played an important role in the study of memory processes in sentence processing.  In this talk, I will talk about some important lessons I have learnt over the last 20 years while trying to evaluate ACT-R based computational models of sentence comprehension. In this connection, I will present some new results from a recent set of sentence processing studies on Eastern Armenian.

Shravan Vasishth and Felix Engelmann. Sentence comprehension as a cognitive process: A computational approach. 2021. Cambridge University Press.