Category Archives: Acquisition

Perkins colloquium Fri. Feb. 15 at 3:30

Laurel Perkins of the University of Maryland ( will present “How to Grow a Grammar: Syntactic Development in 1-Year-Olds” on Friday Feb. 15th at 3:30 PM in N400. All are welcome – an abstract follows.
ABSTRACT: What we can learn depends on what we already know; a child who can’t count cannot learn arithmetic, and a child who can’t segment words cannot identify properties of verbs in her language. Language acquisition, like learning in general, is incremental. How do children draw the right generalizations about their language using incomplete and noisy representations of their linguistic input?
In this talk, I’ll examine some of the first steps of syntax acquisition in 1-year-old infants, using behavioral methods to probe their linguistic representations, and computational methods to ask how they learn from those representations. Taking argument structure as my case study, I will show: (1) that infants represent core clause arguments like “subject” and “object” when learning verbs, (2) that infants can cope with “non-basic” clause types, where those arguments have been displaced, by ignoring some of their input, and (3) that it is possible for infants to learn what kind of data to ignore, even before they can parse it. I will argue that the approach I take for studying this particular learning problem will generalize widely, allowing us to build new models for understanding the role of development in grammar learning.

“Recursion across Domains” published by CUP

A book edited by Luiz Amaral, Marcus Maia, Andrew Nevins, and Tom Roeper on “Recursion across Domains” was recently published by Cambridge University Press. As Tom Roeper notes:

This book has a large UMass footprint — editors: Luiz Amaral, Tom Roeper —  contributors include many former students, faculty and visitors: Suzi Lima, Bart Hollebrandse, Ana Perez, Uli Sauerland, Yohei Oseki, Terue Nakato, Rafael Nonato, Luiz Amaral, Tom Roeper

Summary: Recursion and self-embedding are at the heart of our ability to formulate our thoughts, articulate our imagination and share with other human beings. Nonetheless, controversy exists over the extent to which recursion is shared across all domains of syntax. A collection of 18 studies are presented here on the central linguistic property of recursion, examining a range of constructions in over a dozen languages representing great areal, typological and genetic diversity and spanning wide latitudes. The volume expands the topic to include prepositional phrases, possessives, adjectives, and relative clauses – our many vehicles to express creative thought – to provide a critical perspective on claims about how recursion connects to broader aspects of the mind. Parallel explorations across language families, literate and non-literate societies, children and adults are investigated and constitutes a new step in the generative tradition by simultaneously focusing on formal theory, acquisition and experimentation, and ecologically-sensitive fieldwork, and initiates a new community where these diverse experts collaborate

Table of Contents:

Foreword (Ian Roberts)

A Map of the Theoretical and Empirical Issues (Amaral, Maia, Roeper, & Nevins)

Speech Reports, Theory of Mind and Evidentials

  1. Sauerland, Uli. False speech reports in Piraha ̃: A comprehension experi- ment
  2. Hollebrandse, Bart. Indirect recursion: the importance of second-order embedding and its implications for cross-linguistic research
  3. Correa, Letıcia M.S., Marina R. A. Augusto, Mercedes Marcilese & Clara Villarinho. Recursion in language and the development of higher order cognitive functions: an investigation with children acquiring Brazilian Portuguese
  4. Stenzel, Kristine. Embedding as a building block of evidential categories in Kotiria
  5. Thomas, Guillaume. Embedded imperatives in Mbya ́

Recursion along the Clausal Spine

  1. Rodrigues, Cilene, Raiane Salles, & Filomena Sandalo. Word order in control: evidence for self-embedding in Piraha ̃
  2. Nonato, Rafael. Switch-reference is licensed by both kinds of coordina- tion: novel K̃iseˆdjeˆ data
  3. Duarte, Fabio. Clausal recursion, predicate raising and head-finality in Teneteha ́ra
  4. Vieira,Marcia.Recursion in Tupi-Guaranilanguages:TheCasesofTupinamba ́ and Guaran ́ı

Recursive Possession and Relative Clauses

  1. Terunuma, Akikio  & TerueNakato.Recursive possessives in ChildJapanese
  2. Lima, Suzi, & Pikuruk Kaiabi. Recursion of possessives and locative phrases in Kawaiwete
  3. Amaral, Luiz. & Wendy Leandro. Relative Clauses in Wapichana and the interpretation of multiple embedded “uraz” Constructions
  4. Storto, Luciana, Karin Vivanco, & Ivan Rocha. Multiple embedding of relative clauses in Karitiana

Recursion in the PP Domain

  1. Roeper,Tom & YoheiOseki.Directstructuredrecursionintheacquisition path from flat to hierarchical structure
  2. Sandalo, Filomena, Cilene Rodrigues, Tom Roeper, Luiz Amaral, Marcus Maia & Glauber Romling. Self-embedded recursive postpositional phrases in Piraha ̃: a pilot study
  3. Perez-Leroux, Ana T., Anny Castilla-Earls, Susana Bejar, Diane Massam & Tyler Peterson. Strong continuity and children’s development of DP recursion
  4. Franchetto, Bruna. Prosody and recursion in Kuikuro: DPs vs PPs
  5. Maia,Marcus,Anieli Franca, AlineGesualdi, AleriaLage, Cristiane Oliveira, Marije Soto & Juliana Gomes. The processing of PP embedding and co- ordination in Karaja ́ and in Portuguese



LAWNE held Dec. 1 at UMass

LAWNE (Language Acquisitiion Workshop Northeast) held at UMass Dec. 1 brought together students and faculty from UMass, UConn and MIT where papers on ellipsis, null subjects, presuppositional too, recursion, math in language, and passives with methods from comprehension experimentation, naturalistic data, second language acquisition were all presented. A few of their authors gathered for a picture afterwards, shown below.


Tom Roeper quoted in the Atlantic

Via UMass news

Thomas Roeper, linguistics, says learning language from a special application on a smartphone isn’t quite the same as learning from a human teacher. He says a teacher can hold a student’s attention better and can tailor lessons to the individual’s talents. “There are all kinds of contextual factors in language learning. It would be hard for an app to take them all into account,” Roeper says. (The Atlantic, December 2018)

DELV Relaunch

From Tom Roeper

The Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV) was developed by a cooperative team from the Linguistics Department and Communications Disorders Dept in 2005.  It is now being relaunched with a new publisher: Ventris.

This disorders test is designed to probe deep principles of grammar (long-distance wh-movement, wh-pairing, quantification, pragmatics, etc) without being biased against dialect speakers, particularly AAE speakers.

The DELV has been used with Navajo, Appalachian, Canadian, Australian children, and translated into Afrikaans.   Ideas
of further extensions, possible translations and potential applications are all welcome.

The DELV included many faculty from linguistics, beyond the authors Harry Seymour, Tom Roeper, and Jill deVilliers (to whom Peter deVilliers and Barbara Pearson have been added): Lisa Green, Lisa Selkirk, Peggy Speas, Angelika Kratzer, Joe Pater, and John Kingston were all involved in major and minor ways.  In addition many students were involved: Bart Hollebrandse, Mike Dickey, Elena Benedicto, Deanna Moore (and I hope I have not forgotten anyone).

      The original team met November 15th at the ASHA (American Speech and Hearing Association—20,000 attendees) for a wonderful re-union and brainstorming session with Robert Ventris our new publisher.
      Many of the ComDis PhD’s joined us including: Valerie Johnson [starting a new comdis program at Rutgers], D’Jaris Coles (Andrews University), Eliane Ramos (FIU), Janice Jackson, and former ComDis faculty Shelley Velleman (now chair at U of Vermont) and Christine Foreman.
     Presentations by Jill deVilliers, on new tests (Chinese,
Roma,and  Spanish) were presented. AAE and word-learning, and a variety of other subjects were given in lectures and posters.

Nakato, Nelson and Roeper in China

Terue Nakato, Jon Nelson, and Tom Roeper had a paper “Overt Morphology Helps Children Recognize Recursion” at the Inauguration Ceremony of the Department of Linguistics at BLCU & International Forum on Frontiers in Linguistics in Beijing on October 30th. The program is available at the link.

Terue Nakato and Anne-Marie DiSciullo in China


Report from BUCLD

From Tom Roeper

BUCLD (Boston University Child Language Development) Nov 2-4 saw many students faculty and alumni come together as usual and with our traditional dinner Saturday night.

There were talks and posters by all of these folks:
Jill deVilliers and Jessica Kotfila
     LD wh-movement and tense
Ken Drozd and Bart Hollebrandse on quantifier spreading across 17 langauges
     (with 22 others including Uli Sauerland)
Jennifer Spenader on quantifier spreading
Suzi Lima on recursion and plurals in an Amazonian language
Barbara Pearson and Janice Jackson on African American English
Ana Perez on recursion and productivity
Angeliek van Hout on causation and events
And Jill deVilliers gave an invited talk on wh-movement and False Belief at the  conference the day before on cognitive and linguistic approaches to False Belief.

Call for papers: Brazilian Linguistics Association 50th Anniversary

The Brazilian Linguistics Association (ABRALIN) is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019 with a special event: The event, which will host the 11th International Congress of ABRALIN, the 24th ABRALIN’s Institute and five satellite meetings will take place in beautiful Maceió, Alagoas, Brazil, from May 02 to May 09, 2019.
The main objective of the 11th International Congress of ABRALIN is to address fundamental issues for Linguistics today, instigating debates that facilitate courses of actions in the area in face of the transformations in the contemporary world. Moreover, the event also aims to promote propositional dialogues between Linguistics and other areas of knowledge. Keynote speakers: Andries Coetzee, Daniel Everett, Dermeval da Hora, Eni Orlandi, Geoff Pullum, José Morais, Marcos Bagno, Maria Helena Mira Mateus, Noam Chomsky, Oliver Niebuhr, Roland Pfau, Tom Roeper, and Willem Adelaar.
Paper Submission Deadline: November 30th.
The ABRALIN‘s Institute, with a long tradition in the history of our Association, aims to contribute to the international colaboration and to the qualification in the area of Linguistics. The Institute will offer a selection of courses taught by renowned foreign and Brazilian specialists, promoting the discussion, the dissemination and the sharing of the most recent theoretical and methodological trends in the area of Linguistics. Lecturers: Andries Coetzee, Daniel Everett, Erez Levon, Geoff Pullum, Jean-Jacques Courtine, José Luiz Fiorin, José Morais, Marcos Bagno, Oliver Niebuhr, Roland Pfau, Tom Roeper, Willem Adelaar and Xinchun Wang, among others.
ABRALIN invites the academic community to celebrate its 50th anniversary in a stunning place: Maceió, Alagoas.


Festschrift event for Tom Roeper

A surprise gathering was held on Monday to present a Festschrift (reference below) to Tom Roeper. The program can be found at this link. Congratulations Tom, and thank you to all who contributed to this lovely celebration of Tom’s work!

Hollebrandse, Bart, Jaieun Kim, Ana T. Pérez-Leroux, and Petra Schulz, eds. 2018. University of Massachusetts Occasional Papers in Linguistics (UMOP) 41, T.O.M and grammar (Thoughts on Mind and grammar): A festschrift in honor of Tom Roeper. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, Graduate Linguistics Student Association.

Tom Roeper at Wuppertal, Dortmund, and Berlin

Professor Tom Roeper has just returned from a trip to Germany which involved talks in Wuppertal, Dortmund, and Berlin.

In Wuppertal, he gave an invited talk at `The View from the Multilingual Child‘ on October 9. [Program:] Tom notes that two of the speakers at this conference [Juan Uriagareka and Pieter Muysken taught at UMass] and two others were visitors [Leah Bauke and Petra Schulz].

In Dortmund, he gave a lecture on October 11 at Dortmund University on `From Recursion to Pragmatics: Challenges to Acquisition Theory‘.

And in Berlin, Professor Roeper was at ZAS where he worked with Nadine Balbach on children’s acquisition of the presuppositional meaning of but and with Artemis Alexiadou and Kazuko Yatsushiro on the acquisition of nominalization. While in Berlin, he contacted Hristo Kyuchukov (University of Silesia) who works with refugee communities in and around Berlin and was a former visitor to our department. Professor Roeper is interested in developing experiments that will involve children growing up in these highly multilingual communities.