Author Archives: Joe Pater

The LSA Institute begins in one week!

We are so excited to be welcoming so many linguists from around the world to UMass for the LSA Institute, which starts Monday June 19th and runs through July 14th. Everything you need to know about the Institute can be found here: . Huge thanks to Ana Arregui and Kyle Johnson, the conference co-chairs, and to Narda Wakoluk, our department administrator, for all they have done to make this happen.

Ellen Lau colloquium Friday May 12 at 3:30

Ellen Lau of the University of Maryland will be presenting a colloquium entitled “Individuals in brain and language” in ILC N211 at 3:30 Friday May 12th. All are welcome! The abstract is below.

Abstract: In this talk I would like to consider what is known about how the human mind and brain represents individuals, and what the implications are for our theories of linguistic interpretation. In standard model-theoretic semantics, individuals are simply taken for granted as part of the world model; and I too assume that the world itself contains individual entities. But if we take seriously the goal of developing a theory of the natural language semantics that is instantiated in the human mind, we need to know something about how the mind manages to approximate the world in mental representation, as it is this mental representation of the world to which natural language has to be mapped. As Bach (1989) noted, this is as challenging for individuals as for anything else. Although cognitive neuroscience is still in its infancy, some rough outlines of how the brain represents individuals are becoming clearer. As I will review, there appear to be multiple, redundant representations of individuals in different circuits that evolved for different purposes and which differ in format and temporal continuity. Some of our representations of individuals are fleeting, serving the purpose of helping us to accurately represent the structure of a current situation or interaction while it is happening. Others, supported by different brain circuits, are designed to last a longer period of time, allowing us to re-identify a previously encountered individualand successfully integrate new knowledge about them with prior knowledge. Yet a different form of representation for known individuals is included within the semi-permanent long-term knowledge base that also supports generalized knowledge. The diversity of individual representation formats suggested by cognitive neuroscience thus raises new and interesting questions for semantic theory about what we should take to be the internal world-model in which sentences are interpreted. A separate set of questions has to do with how representations of individuals get populated in the brainsystems reviewed above. Again, we may be willing to grant that a ‘fixed and given’ domain of individual entities really exists (e.g. summed across all times and locations in a multiverse), but minds have neither the capacity for nor access to that full domain, and must approximate and expand it piecemeal over time. Key insights into how the mind does this, with interesting implications for our theories of noun meanings, are provided by Sandeep Prasada’s ‘instance-of-kind’ theory from cognitive psychology, which argues that kinds are mental representations that generate individual representations of instances much like a class definition in object-oriented programming languages contains code that can generate new instances of the class. 

Seth Cable’s new paper selected as a “good read” by the LSA

In the LSA update of April 24th, Seth Cable’s paper “Two paths to habituality: The semantics of habitual mode in Tlingit“, published in Semantics and Pragmatics in 2022 was recommended as a “good read”:

This article is interesting from multiple angles: Dissecting the properties of two ways of marking habitual statements in the critically endangered language Tlingit (Southern Alaska, Western Canada) and developing a formal semantic analysis that captures the contrasts between them, it shines a revealing light on the morphosyntactic expression of habituality cross-linguistically and the semantic duplicity of this category.

Congratulations Seth!

Shivaangi Salhotra receives Undergraduate Sustainability Award from UMass Libraries

Shivaangi Salhotra, an undergraduate linguistics major in the class of ’26, received an Undergraduate Sustainability Award from UMass Libraries for their research paper: “Trash Talk: Rethinking the Notion of Waste”. They received a $1000 scholarship, and their paper will be uploaded to ScholarWorks, the university’s digital repository. Congratulations Shivaangi!

The Undergraduate Sustainability Award promotes in-depth understanding of sustainability topics, research strategies, and the use of library resources, providing participating students with vital skills they will carry into future academic and vocational endeavors.The competition was open to all currently enrolled UMass Amherst undergraduates. 

Lisa Green selected as a Distinguished Graduate Mentor

Lisa Green has been selected as one of three faculty members campus-wide to be recognized this year as a Distinguished Graduate Mentor. This award recognizes her excellence in graduate mentoring in the department, and her work as the first Associate Dean for Graduate Education in our College, a position she has held since September 2021. Congratulations Lisa!

UMass Linguistics undergraduate TESOL interns

All of the Teaching English as a Second or Other Language interns in the UMass ESL program this year are linguistics undergraduates! Pictured below, left-to-right, are William Mooneyham, David Clulk Le, Henry Walters and Katie Jordan. Meghan Nyhof also interned in the Fall. They are team teaching in the American Culture and Language Program and serve as tutors in the ESL program. Thank you Andrea Dallas (director of the ESL program) for creating this opportunity for our students!

Moore-Cantwell et al. 2023: Violations of Lab-Learned Phonological Patterns Elicit a Late Positive Component

Linguistics PhD alums Claire Moore-Cantwell (’16) and Robert Staubs (’14), along with Joe Pater and Psychological and Brain Sciences faculty Lisa Sanders and PhD alum Ben Zobel have published a paper in Language and Speech. The UMass library link and abstract are below. (This is an ahead of print on-line publication).


The experimental study of artificial language learning has become a widely used means of investigating the predictions of theories of language learning and representation. Although much is now known about the generalizations that learners make from various kinds of data, relatively little is known about how those representations affect speech processing. This paper presents an event-related potential (ERP) study of brain responses to violations of lab-learned phonotactics. Novel words that violated a learned phonotactic constraint elicited a larger Late Positive Component (LPC) than novel words that satisfied it. Similar LPCs have been found for violations of natively acquired linguistic structure, as well as for violations of other types of abstract generalizations, such as musical structure. We argue that lab-learned phonotactic generalizations are represented abstractly and affect the evaluation of speech in a manner that is similar to natively acquired syntactic and phonological rules.