Category Archives: Psycholinguistics

Mack colloquium Friday November 12 at 3:30

Jennifer Mack (Department of Communication Disorders and Graduate Program in Neuroscience and Behavior, UMass Amherst) will present “Comprehending speakers with aphasia: What are the effects of aphasia education?” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 12, in ILC S331. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Aphasia is a language disability caused by damage to the brain (most commonly a stroke) that affects over 2 million people in the US, resulting in difficulty in communicating one’s thoughts even though intelligence remains intact. Despite the prevalence and societal impacts of aphasia, fewer than 10% of US adults know what aphasia is. Many people with aphasia (PWA) find low public knowledge of aphasia to be one of the most challenging aspects of living with aphasia, and a substantial barrier to communicating successfully. However, no research has examined the effects of education about aphasia on the ability to communicate successfully with PWA. In this talk, I will discuss a new line of research investigating the effects of aphasia education on non-aphasic listeners’ comprehension of speakers with aphasia. First, I will synthesize two relevant lines of prior research: (1) the communication disorders literature on how education of listeners impacts their perception of speakers with communication disabilities and (2) the psycholinguistic literature examining how language comprehension adapts to atypical speech/language input. Then, I will present preliminary results from an eye-tracking experiment testing whether aphasia education impacts listeners’ online comprehension of a speaker with aphasia. Finally, I will discuss potential implications of this work for aphasia education campaigns as well as understanding how the language comprehension system adapts to neurologically diverse speakers.

Franklin Institute Symposium in Honor of Barbara Partee (April 19th)

We are extremely happy to announce that, in honor of Professor Barbara Partee receiving the 2021 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science, the Franklin Institute and the University of Pennsylvania are organizing a special symposium honoring her and her legacy in the field.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this symposium will be held remotely, and can be viewed publicly over Zoom. It will take place on Monday, April 19th, from 9:45AM to 3PM (EST), and will feature presentations by:

  • Barbara Partee (UMass Amherst)
  • Gennaro Chierchia (Harvard University)
  • Pauline Jacobson (Brown University)
  • Florian Schwarz (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Seth Cable (UMass Amherst)
  • Christopher Potts (Stanford University)

The website for the symposium, which includes the full program (with abstracts) as well as the Zoom link for the remote presentations, can be found at the link below:

Again, this event is entirely public, and all are welcome (and encouraged) to attend.

Lau colloquium Friday March 12 at 3:30

Ellen Lau, University of Maryland, will present “New ways forward in neurolinguistics: more thought, less words” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday March 12. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

Figuring out the neural underpinnings of language processing is hard; we have to hold onto so many pieces from different disciplines that it’s easy for a few basics to fall off our ‘stack’. I’ll discuss a few that I’ve recently remembered myself, and that give me hope that I could actually have a few coherent things to say when I’m supposed to teach what is known about the neuroanatomy of language processing. First, we neuroscientists of language too often conflate language with non-linguistic thought and conceptual knowledge systems. We forget that when we observe ‘semantic’ neural responses, they may often reflect the activity of these non-linguistic conceptual systems, and we miss too many relevant insights about these systems from research in other domains of cognitive science. Changing my ways, here I will draw from theories about parietal cortex’s role in binding object representations in visual scene perception, to hypothesize that its responses during language comprehension reflect something like the binding of conceptual properties to discourse files. Second, following others in the field (Fedorenko et al. 2020, Matchin & Hickok 2020), I’ll note that neuroscience of language has been missing explicit representational theories about stored language knowledge—the ‘lexicon’—and that this has been blocking our progress on neuroanatomical models of syntax. The folk idea that language is a bunch of simple sound-to-meaning pairs (‘words’) is rooted deep in our collective psyche, and even when we publicly disavow it, ‘under the hood’ it continues to shape how we develop our neuroscience of language theories and how we reason about our experiments. Looking at some problematic cases in my own past work, I’ll argue that as a field we need to stop using vague/incoherent terminology like ‘word’ and ‘lexico-semantic’, and instead commit to sketching out explicit assumptions about how our rich language knowledge is organized every time we embark on an investigation of the neural basis of language production or comprehension.

Culbertson colloquium Friday February 26 at 2:30

Jennifer Culbertson, University of Edinburgh, will present “Experimental evidence for learning biases in word and morpheme order” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 2:30 Friday February 26. Notice the different time – one hour earlier than usual. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

Recent research has suggested that the cross-linguistic and language-internal frequencies of particular word and morpheme orders might be shaped by constraints on processing combined with learned distributional information (e.g., Hupp et al. 2009, Futrell et al. 2015, Hahn et al. 2020). In this talk I discuss a set of three experiments investigating this claim using artificial language experiments. In the first two sets of experiments, I show that at least some constraints on nominal word and morpheme order in fact reflect universal learning biases, present across populations, independent of their native language. I argue that these biases are driven by simplicity and aspects of meaning, not frequency or other distributional information. In the third set of experiments, I address a well-known claim about the so-called suffixing preference, namely that it results from processing or perception of sequential information. By comparing behavioral results across language populations, I show that is likely not the case. Rather, speakers’ perception adapts to the affix order of their language.

UMass linguists @ 34th Annual CUNY Human Sentence Processing Conference

The University of Pennsylvania will host the 34th Annual CUNY Sentence Processing Conference virtually this year from March 4th-6th. Registration is free, so stop by to see what our students and alumni are up to this year! UMass linguists past, present, and future are presenting a lot of very interesting work.

Stephanie Rich and Matt Wagers will give a platform talk entitled Syntactic and semantic parallelism guides filler-gap processing in coordination.

In addition, there will be short 5 minute talks and discussions by:

Morwenna Hoeks, Maziar Toosarvandani and Amanda Rysling: Decomposing the focus effect: Evidence from reading.

David Potter and Katy Carlson. The structural source of English Subject Islands.

Anthony Yacovone, Paulina Piwowarczyk and Jesse Snedeker: It takes two the tango: Predictability and detectability affect processing of phrase structure errors

Rodica Ivan, Brian Dillon and Kyle Johnson: Choosing a Referring Expression: Intrasentential Ambiguity Avoidance in Romanian.

Jeremy Doiron and Shota Momma: Underlying clausal structure modulates lexical interference: Evidence from raising and control.

Shota Momma and Masaya Yoshida: Syntax guides sentence planning: Evidence from multiple dependency constructions.

Keir Moulton, Cassandra Chapman and Nayoun Kim: Predicting binding domains: Evidence from fronted auxiliaries and wh-predicates.

Jon Burnsky, Franziska Kretzschmar, Erika Mayer, Lisa Sanders and Adrian Staub: Dissociating Effects of Predictability, Preview and Visual Contrast on Eye Movements and ERPs.

Özge Bakay and Nazik Dinçtopal Deniz: Case interference and phrase lengths interact in processing Turkish center-embeddings.

Gwendolyn Rehrig and Fernanda Ferreira. Good-enough for all intensive purposes: Eggcorns and noisy channel processing.

Adina Camelia Bleotu and Brian Dillon. Pronouns attract in number but (much) less so in person. Evidence from Romanian.

Anthony Yacovone, Moshe Poliak, Harita Koya and Jesse Snedeker. ERP decoding shows bilinguals represent the language of a code-switch after lexical processing.

Christopher Hammerly, Brian Dillon and Adrian Staub. Prominence guides incremental interpretation: Lessons from obviation in Ojibwe.

Nayoun Kim, Keir Moulton and Daphna Heller. Processing embedded clauses in Korean: silent element or a dependency formation?

Kuan-Jung Huang and Adrian Staub. Limits on failure to notice word transpositions during sentence reading.

Caroline Andrews. If Memory Doesn’t Serve: Timecourse of Syntactic Forgetting in Ellipsis and Recognition.

John Duff, Adrian Brasoveanu and Amanda Rysling. Task influences on lexical underspecification: Insights from the Maze and SPR.

Caren Rotello, Brian Dillon and Caroline Andrews. Multiverse analysis of eye-tracking data: Reexamining the ambiguity advantage effect.

Fernanda Ferreira, Gwendolyn Rehrig, Madison Barker, Eleonora Beier, Suphasiree Chantavarin, Beverly Cotter, Zhuang Qiu, Matthew Lowder and Hossein Karimi. Back to the Future: Do Influential Results from 1980s Psycholinguistics Replicate?

Mara Breen and Evelina Fedorenko. Self-reported inner speech salience moderates implicit prosody effects.

Nicholas Van Handel, Matthew Wagers and Amanda Rysling. Guiding Implicit Prosody with Delexicalized Melodies: Evidence from a Match/Mismatch Task.

Arrate Isasi-Isasmendi, Caroline Andrews, Sebastian Sauppe, Monique Flecken, Moritz Daum, Itziar Laka, Martin Meyer and Balthasar Bickel. Case marking influences the apprehension of briefly exposed events.

Madison Barker, Gwendolyn Rehrig and Fernanda Ferreira. But what can I do with it?: Speakers name interactable objects earlier in scene descriptions.

Nicholas Van Handel, Lalitha Balachandran, Stephanie Rich and Amanda Rysling. Singular vs. Plural Themselves: Evidence from the Ambiguity Advantage.

Daniela Mertzen, Brian Dillon, Ralf Engbert and Shravan Vasishth. An investigation of the time-course of syntactic and semantic interference in online sentence comprehension.

Alex Göbel has made it to McGill!

When we last heard from Alex Göbel, he had just defended his dissertation. He has since been let into Canada to start his postdoc position at McGill with Michael Wagner. He writes from his quarantine in Montreal:

I’ll be at McGill on a Feodor Lynen Fellowship, sponsored by the Humboldt Foundation. The research project is aimed at investigating the interaction between Focus-particles – or Focus more generally – and intonation, specifically the role of pitch accents for the interpretation of ambiguous Focus-particles like ‘at least’. The idea is that ‘at least’ can be epistemic or concessive, and we want to see whether there’s a correlation between the interpretation and the type of pitch accent the Focused constituent receives. We’ll be running both production and comprehension experiments that will hopefully lead to lots of interesting implications for linguistic and psycholinguistic theory.

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

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.