Category Archives: Newsletter

Special issue on sociolectal and dialectal variation in prosody published

The special issue of Language and Speech: Sociolectal and Dialectal Variation in Prosody co-edited by Meghan Armstrong-Abrami (UMass Hispanic Linguistics), Mara Breen (Mount Holyoke Psychology), Shelome Gooden (University of Pittsburgh Linguistics), Erez Levon (University of Bern, Professor of Sociolinguistics), and Kristine Yu (UMass Linguistics) has finally officially been released!

The special issue grew out of the Experimental and Theoretical Approaches to Prosody 4 (ETAP4) conference hosted at UMass in October 2018.

Neal gives invited talks at Harvard and University of Kentucky

5th year Ph.D. student Anissa Neal gave not one but two invited talks this week. On Tuesday November 29th she gave an invited talk entitled, Speaker Identity and Syntactic Expectations: A proposed study on African American Language, at Harvard University’s Language and Cognition research group, and on Friday 12/2 she gave an invited colloquium with the same title at the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky. In her talk, she discussed her computational and experimental work on processing subject contact relative clauses in African American Language. Congratulations Anissa!

First meeting of the Computational Humanities Initiative with Laure Thompson

The first meeting of the Computational Humanities Initiative was held Friday November 18th in N400 of the Linguistics Department. Laure Thompson of the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences presented “Computational Humanities and Human-Centered Machine Learning” to an audience that included UMass faculty and students from the departments of Classics, Philosophy, Economics, and Linguistics as well as from CICS, Nursing and SPHSS, and from Amherst and Mount Holyoke Colleges. The event was sponsored by the College of Humanities and Fine Arts and the Computational Social Science Institute. The Computational Humanities Initiative is being organized by faculty in CHFA and CICS interested in building new connections between our colleges in research and teaching. To find out about future events, join the Computational Humanities mailing list by emailing Joe Pater (

A recording of the talk is available to those with a UMass account, and an abstract and bio are below.

Brendan O’Connor of CICS/CSSI, and Laure Thompson

The meeting participants introducing themselves.

Thompson talk abstract: Machine learning (ML) is typically used to replicate some human activity. Given a set of inputs, a system is built to produce the same outputs as a human would; thus reducing human interaction through automation. In contrast to this standard use, the computational humanities typically use ML as a tool to enable human interaction in the form of human interpretation. This alternative use centers iterative, expert human use to study humanities collections in order to gain meaningful insights from and recognize the true complexities of cultural phenomena. In this talk, I will argue that these two uses are fundamentally different paradigms of user intention. I will illustrate the characteristics of these two paradigms using two case studies drawn from the computational humanities: a Dadaist “reading” of Dada and a largescale study of the themes in science fiction.

Bio: Laure Thompson is an assistant professor in the Manning College of Information & Computer Sciences at UMass Amherst, whose research bridges machine learning and natural language processing with humanistic scholarship. Centered on humanities applications, her research focuses on understanding what computational models actually learn and how we can intentionally change what they learn. Given this humanities focus, she works with a wide range of cultural heritage corpora: from texts of science fiction novels and medieval manuscripts to images of avant-garde journals and magical gems from the ancient Mediterranean. She completed her PhD in Computer Science at Cornell University in 2020.

Susi Wurmbrand colloquium Friday Nov 18

Susi Wurmbrand (Harvard University) will present “Implicational complementation hierarchies: Containment and the freedom of syntax” on Friday November 18, 2022 at 3:30pm as part of the Linguistics colloquium series. The presentation will be both in-person in S331 in the ILC and available through Zoom. Abstract can be found below. All are welcome!

Typological and cross-linguistic observations show that complementation configurations can be ranked according to their semantic properties, forming an implicational complementation hierarchy along which syntactic or morphological distinctions operate. I suggest a model where the cross-linguistically stable (possibly universal) properties follow from a rigid syntax−semantic mapping of categories defined via containment, whereas variable properties indicate the points where syntax may act autonomously.  I will discuss several phenomena where implicational relations have been observed (among them finiteness, transparency, restructuring, the left periphery) and show that they can be related to truncation options (whether implemented via exfoliation, structure removal or non-projection) regulated by containment.

Alice Harris celebration

A celebration of Alice Harris and her career was held Saturday November 12th in the Amherst Room of the Campus Center. The picture below is of Alice and her husband Jim Staros (UMass Provost emeritus). It is one of many pictures that Rajesh Bhatt took and shared with us. There were a number of wonderful tributes to Alice, delivered in person by our faculty John McCarthy, Barbara Partee, Tom Roeper and Rajesh Bhatt, and over Zoom by Farrell Ackerman (UCSD), Arthur Samuel (SUNY Stonybrook) and Claire Bowern (Yale). Written tributes from John Baugh (President of the LSA) and Masha Polinsky (Maryland) were read, and a video from Allyson Reed (former Executive Director of the LSA) was played. Congratulations Alice on such a fantastic career — we are so lucky to have you as part of our community!

Roeper in Germany

Tom Roeper reports:

The GALA 15 conference (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition) took place in Frankfurt (sept 22-240)–organized by Petra Schulz (former visitor here) with an invited address by Ana Perez, former student here,  and with papers by  former visitors Angeliek van Hout, Camelia Bleotu (with Tom Roeper), and Petra Schulz, and LAWNE member William Snyder, and a poster by Uscha Lakschmann, Deb Foucault, and Tom Roeper.

       A  very nice memorial was held for Jürgen Weissenborn at the GALA Conference in Frankfurt on Sept 24th.  Jürgen died at 83 on Feb 28th.  He was a frequent visitor at UMass,  had many friends here (including Peggy Speas, Barbara Partee, and others).  He married one of our students, Janet Randall,—who attended by zoom.   His wife Bettina, daughter Pia, and 3 grandchildren came. In addition to many remembrances, letters from Barbara Partee and Jill deVilliers were read.

Jürgen collaborated with Jill deVilliers and me on acquisition of long-distance rules,  with Angeliek van Hout on auxiliary learning, with Sandra Waxman on word-learning, among many topics he worked on.      

I also gave a lecture at ZAS in Berlin on “Minimal Interfaces as a Guide to L2, and the formulation of the Thought-Cognition connection”, and the same talk (more or  less) at the Conference in Wuppertal on “Optionality and Variation in Multilingual Syntax” organized by Leah BAuke (a former visitor here) with many leaders in the field (Antonella Sorace, Marit Wetergaard, Theresa Biberauer, among others).

UMass linguists and alumni at AMP 2022

This year’s Annual Meetings on Phonology (AMP) was hosted by UCLA October 21–23. The Annual Meetings on Phonology began as Phonology 2013 here at UMass.

Faculty member Gaja Jarosz gave a keynote address, Generalizing from Inconsistent Data: How Much do Exceptions Count?

Presentations from current students, faculty, and alumni included:

  • Alessa Farinella presented “Prosodic constituency in Tagalog”
  • Cerys Hughes presented “Probing a Neural Network Model of Sound Change for Perceptual Integration”
  • Brandon Prickett (PhD 2021) presented “Is Sour Grapes Learnable? A Computational and Experimental Approach”
  • Seung Suk Lee, Cerys Hughes, Alessa Farinella and Joe Pater presented “Learning stress with feet and grids”
  • Aleksei Nazarov (PhD 2016) and and Brian Smith (PhD 2015) presented “Generalizing French schwa deletion: the role of indexed constraints”
  • Anne-Michelle Tessier (PhD 2007), Karen Jesney (PhD 2011), Kaili Vesik, Roger Lo and Marie-Eve Bouchard presented “The Productive Status of Canadian French Liaison: Variation across Words and Grammar”

Linguistics at HFA Open House!

Linguistics departmental members Emily Knick, Olivia Nash, Kristine Yu, and Levi Logan (left to right) at HFA open house. (Not pictured: Vincent Homer)

Linguistics faculty and undergraduate students were out in force representing the linguistics department at the College of Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA) Open House on Sunday October 23! The open house was an event held as part of Fall Visit days for prospective undergraduates.

The enthusiastic linguistics undergraduate students present to tell prospective students about the linguistics major were Emily Knick (Linguistics ’23), Levi Logan (Linguistics, Electrical Engineering ’25), and Olivia Nash (Chinese, Linguistics ’22). Also present were faculty members and undergraduate advisors Kristine Yu and Vincent Homer.

Lam and Hwang published in Cognitive Science

Suet Ying Lam (Ph.D. student) published work with Heeju Hwang (University of Hong Kong) in Cognitive Science. Their paper may be accessed here:

The title of Suet Ying’s paper is ‘How Does Topicality Affect the Choice of Referential Form? Evidence From Mandarin.’ In it, she investigates the relationship between topicality and predictability, and how these factors influence the choice between null and overt pronouns in Mandarin Chinese. Congratulations, Suet Ying!

Liina Pylkkänen colloquium Friday Oct. 21, 2022 @ 3:30pm

Liina Pylkkänen will present, “The syntactic, semantic and associative brain: How conceptual combination interacts with syntactic composition and associative processing in temporal cortex” on Friday October 21st, 2022 at 3:30pm as part of the Linguistics colloquium series. The presentation will be both in-person in S331 in the ILC and available through Zoom. Abstract can be found below. All are welcome!

What is the neural basis of syntactic and semantic composition? Our lab’s research has revealed a consistent neural correlate of composition in the left anterior temporal lobe (LATL), tracking conceptual aspects of composition, and more elusive correlates of syntactic composition in posterior temporal cortex. Is the LATL fully independent of syntactic composition, or does it conceptually combine elements that also syntactically combine? That is, how does LATL activity relate to more structural aspects of composition? On the flip side, we can also investigate how the LATL interacts with *less* structural aspects of processing, namely pure association, which has also been shown to drive LATL activity, including in the monkey brain. I will report on our recent progress on these questions, as we gradually make headway in understanding how the combinatory machine works in our brains.