Category Archives: Acquisition

Tribute to Jill de Villiers from the UMass Linguistics faculty

The faculty of the UMass Amherst Linguistics department wishes to recognize and celebrate the enormous contributions made to our intellectual community by Professor Jill de Villiers, who after a long and distinguished career, has just recently retired from Smith College.

Professor de Villiers has contributed indispensibly to our research on language acquisition, communication disorders, and African American English. Beyond simply collaborating with students and faculty on a wide variety of papers and presentations, she has served on innumerable dissertation committees in Linguistics, Communication Disorders, and Psychology, including one that she chaired (in Psychology), covering a broad variety of topics in language acquisition and African American English.

Professor de Villiers has participated extensively in sponsored research here at UMass Amherst, serving as member or Co-PI on grants awarded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Sloan Foundation. This work notably includes her co-authorship of the well-known DELV Assessment Instrument, the result of a unique cross-disciplinary collaboration between the Departments of Linguistics and Communication Disorders.

Though Professor de Villiers has retired from Smith College, she remains a central figure in our academic community. As both Adjunct Professor and a highly active member of the Language Acquisition Research Center, she continues to be an important resource for our faculty and students. We look forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration, and wish her the very best in this new stage of her life and career.

Workshop on modification features UMass linguists

A workshop on modification that took place November 26-27th, was organized by current visitor Camelia Bleotu and faculty member Deborah Foucault. Three of our undergrads were invited to present: Tyler Poisson, Sarah Kim, and Mirella Vladova. The invited speaker was Tom Roeper.

WORKSHOP ON MODIFICATION (organizat de Adina Camelia Bleotu & Deborah Foucault)
Tyler Poisson (UMass Amherst): The Modificational Possessive: natural, intuitional, and experimental evidence for a syntactic analysis of generic possessives.
Sarah Kim (UMass Amherst): Acquisition of Exhaustivity for the English Definite Article in Speakers of Languages with Article Absence
Mirella Vladova (UMass Amherst): A Look Into Children’s Priority in Genitive and Prepositional Recursion.
Ioana-Amalia Luciu (University of Bucharest) & Adina Camelia Bleotu (University of Bucharest, ZAS): How Are Size, Age, Shape and Color Adjectives Ordered in English and Romanian? An Experimental Investigation
Daniela-Gabriela Truşcǎ (University of Bucharest) & Adina Camelia Bleotu (University of Bucharest, ZAS): An Experimental Investigation of the Ordering of Quality, Size and Color Adjectives in English and Romanian
 Vorbitor invitat:Tom Roeper  (UMass Amherst)How to put something inside itself

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.

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)

UMass goes to BUCLD45!

The 45th Annual Boston University Child Language Development conference will take place virtually 11/6 to 11/8. The conference is FREE to student participants, and $60 for non-student participants: You can register here.

The full conference schedule is here. The conference will feature keynote presentations from Michael Frank and Adele Goldberg. In addition, a number of UMass students, alumni, professors and LARC members are presenting work there, including:

  • Children’s comprehension of two-level recursive possessives in Japanese and English. – D. Guerrero, T. Nakato, J. Park, T. Roepe
  • The distributional learning of recursive structures. D. Li, L. Grohe, P. Schulz, C. Yang
  • An acquisition path for Speech Acts in English and their interaction with negation. R. Woods, T. Roeper
  • Children’s sensitivity to prosody and ostension in answers to wh-questions. B. Stoddard, J. de Villiers
  • Exhaustive pairing errors in passives. J. Kisjes, B. Hollebrandse, A. van Hout
  • Iconic sentences are not always easier: Evidence from bilingual German-Greek children. C. Makrodimitris, P. Schulz
  • “Small big flowers” or “small and big flowers”? Simple is better and roll-up is too complex for Romanian 5-year-olds. A. C. Bleotu, T. Roeper

UMass linguists at SAFAL

The first South Asian Forum on the Acquisition and processing of Language (SAFAL-1) was held virtually at the University of Potsdam from 8/31 – 9/2. It was a satellite workshop to AMLaP 2020, and it was a workshop that ‘aims to provide a platform to exchange research on sentence processing, verbal semantics, computational modeling, corpus-based psycholinguistics, neurobiology of language, and child language acquisition, among others, in the context of the subcontinent’s linguistic landscape.’ Like AMLaP, it was free to attend: The schedule is here.

UMass linguists and psycholinguists were well represented among the speakers at the workshop, including…

Rajesh Bhatt gave a keynote talk on Wednesday 9/2 at 9:00AM Eastern time

Sakshi Bhatia and Brian Dillon gave a talk on Wednesday 9/2 entitled ‘Agreement processing in Hindi’ at 10:05 Eastern time.

Dustin Chacon, Rajesh Bhatt, Brian Dillon and Alec Marantz presented a poster entitled ‘The time course of Hindi agreement in the cognitive neuroscience of language’, on Wednesday 9/2.

Sudha Arunachalam, Sakshi Bhatia, and Kamal Choudhary lead a roundtable panel discussion to close the conference on Wednesday 9/2, at 11:45AM eastern time.

Roeper Abralin talk, July 3 at 4pm EST

Friday July 3 2020 (Today!) at 4pm EST (5pm Brasília time), Tom Roeper will present “The Explanatory Power of language acquisition in UG, Cognitive Science, and the evolving notion of Thought” at Abralin ao Vivo:


We first explore the challenge of enriching the concept of interfaces between syntax, semantics and pragmatics: it is largely fixed, innate and governed by simpliciity (economy). Variation lies within modules, not across them. Then we argue: Grammar can provide notations for thought, (Chomsky (2014)) for instance, through an extension of X-bar theory to mathematics which demonstrates what a unifying notation for Cognitive Science can look like. The formalism of Generative grammar may also carry implications for political ideology and our view of personal integrity.

We argue that the acquisition path and actual acquisition evidence is the strongest source of insight for deep principles. Topics will include (briefly): ellipsis, quantification, wh-movement, recursion, Speech Acts, and the ingredients of False Belief reasoning. The experiments lead to specific suggestions for how linguistic theory can make the leap into the classroom, and inform our approach to multilingualism. dialects and language disorders.

Andersson talk Wednesday March 18 noon

Annika Andersson, Associate Professor at Linnaeus University, will present “Cross-linguistic influence on processing of fine-grained placement verb semantics as recorded by ERPs and appropriateness ratings” and talk about some of her research with second language learners on Wednesday March 18th 12:00 in ILC N400. An Abstract follows.
Second language (L2) learners typically experience challenges when semantics differ across source and target languages, and often display CLI in speech production and behavioral comprehension studies (e.g., Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008). However, in studies using ERPs, CLI has rarely been reported, probably because these studies typically examine the processing of gross semantic violations (e.g., Kutas & Hillyard, 1980). We explored how English and German learners of Swedish process fine-grained L2 verb semantics that are either shared or not shared with their first language. Three Swedish placement verbs (sätta ‘set’, ställa ‘stand’, lägga ‘lay’), obligatory for describing placement on a surface with support from below (Viberg 1998) were examined. In difference to Swedish, English has one general placement verb (put), whereas German has specific verbs similar to Swedish (Narasimhan et al., 2012). In contrast to previous ERP studies of semantic processing qualitative differences in semantic processing were related to non-native processing. However, more interestingly neurophysiological processing of fine-grained semantics was strongly related to CLI both offline and online.

Roeper talk at University of Illinois

Tom Roeper delivered a talk on “Multiple Grammars and Minimal Interfaces” at University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, on January 24th.

There is a particularly lively and sophisticated group of scholars studying Information Structure and Syntax in L2 and code-switching under the leadership of Luiz Lopez.