Category Archives: Psycholinguistics

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.

Vasishth colloquium Friday September 25 at 3:30

Shravan Vasishth (, University of Potsdam, will present “Twenty years of retrieval models” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday September. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:


After Newell wrote his 1973 article, “You can’t play twenty questions with nature and win”, several important cognitive architectures emerged for modeling human cognitive processes across a wide range of phenomena. One of these, ACT-R, has played an important role in the study of memory processes in sentence processing.  In this talk, I will talk about some important lessons I have learnt over the last 20 years while trying to evaluate ACT-R based computational models of sentence comprehension. In this connection, I will present some new results from a recent set of sentence processing studies on Eastern Armenian.

Shravan Vasishth and Felix Engelmann. Sentence comprehension as a cognitive process: A computational approach. 2021. Cambridge University Press.

UMass linguists at ELM

The first ever Experiments in Linguistic Meaning conference took place virtually from 9/16-9/18. Hosted at the University of Pennsylvania, and co-organized by Florian Schwarz and Anna Papafragou, ELM is a ‘conference … dedicated to the experimental study of linguistic meaning broadly construed, with a focus on theoretical issues in semantics and pragmatics, their interplay with other components of the grammar, their relation to language processing and acquisition, as well as their connections to human cognition and computation.’ If you’d like to be kept in the loop about this conference and the growing community around it, please consider joining their mailing list.

The full schedule can be found here.

UMass students and alumni were well represented among the presenters, including:

Suzi Lima (Ph.D. 2014, currently University of Toronto) gave an invited keynote presentation entitled ‘Defining atoms: a view from Brazilian languages

Maribel Romero (Ph.D., 1998, current University of Konstanz) gave an invited keynote presentation entitled ‘OR NOT alternative questions, focus and discourse structure


Alexander Gobel, ‘The Common Ground is not enough: Why Focus-sensitivity matters for Presupposition triggers

Nadine Bade and Florian Schwarz, ‘New data on the nature of competition between indefinites and definites

Anissa Neal and Brian Dillon, ‘Definitely islands?

Carolyn Anderson, ‘Coming in, or going out? Measuring the effect of discourse factors on perspective prominence

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.

UMass Amherst Linguists at Virtual AMLaP 2020!

Potsdam University is hosting the 2020 Architectures and Mechanisms in Language Processing (AMLaP) conference virtually next week (registration is free!) and a number of UMass psycholinguists, past and present, are presenting! Although we’re very sad to not see our friends and colleagues in person in Berlin this year, the virtual format does mean that we can connect with our extended UMass family and hear about what they’re up to, even without traveling to Berlin.

AMLaP will take place September 3rd through 5th. The full schedule can be found here. Posters on September 3rd will be presented from 10- 11:30AM Pioneer Valley time, posters on September 4th will be presented from 8- 9:30AM Pioneer Valley time and posters on September 5th will presented from 4- 5:30 AM Pioneer Valley time.

Here’s the roll call of work by our UMass psycholinguist family at AMLaP… don’t miss it!

Yujing Huang and Fernanda Ferreira present their talk, Lingering misinterpretation of garden-path sentences and structural representation, on September 4th at 10AM – 10:30AM Pioneer Valley time.

Poster #163 (September 3rd): Degrees of reanalysis in pragmatically and syntactically motivated dependencies by Maayan Keshev and Aya Meltzer-Asscher

Poster #215 (September 3rd): Do Bare Noun Intervenors Attract Less? Evidence from Agreement Attraction in Romanian by Adina Camelia Bleotu and Brian Dillon

Poster #248 (September 3rd): Polarity Illusions are Quantifier Illusions by Wesley Orth, Masaya Yoshida, and Shayne Sloggett

Poster #276 (September 3rd): Thematic roles’ alignment with grammatical functions facilitates sentence processing by Michael Wilson and Brian Dillon

Poster #320 (September 3rd): Semantic commitment and lexical underspecification in the Maze by John Duff, Adrian Brasoveanu, and Amanda Rysling

Poster #87 (September 4th): The effect of morphological identity and voice mismatch in VP ellipsis by Jesse Harris and Adrian Brasoveanu

Poster #95 (September 5th): Missing-verb illusion in Turkish center-embeddings? An investigation of case interference and phrase lengths by Özge Bakay and Nazik Dinçtopal Deniz

Poster #162 (September 5th): Agreement attraction in reflexive pronouns depends on subject-verb agreement by Maayan Keshev and Aya Meltzer-Asscher

Poster #193 (September 5th): Investigating phonotactic illusions with an auditory lexical decision task by Bethany Dickerson

Poster #243 (September 5th): Active antecedent search triggered by cataphors persists past the subject: evidence from Norwegian and English by Anna Giskes and Dave Kush

Poster #288 (September 5th): Untangling neural responses to implicit phrasing and meter in children’s poetry by Ahren Fitzroy and Mara Breen

Poster #289 (September 5th): Scratching your tête over code switched idioms: Evidence from eye movement measures of reading by Marco S. G. Senaldi, Junyan Wei, Jason Gullifer and Debra Titone

Ivan defends August 17 at 10AM

Rodica Ivan will be defending her dissertation entitled ‘Talking about (her)self: Ambiguity Avoidance and Principle B, A Theoretical and Psycholinguistic Investigation of Romanian Pronouns’ on August 17th, at 10AM. In her thesis, Rodica explores the consequences that a close investigation of the Romanian pronominal system has for theories of binding and coreference, and investigates these issues psycholinguistically through a series of experiments on the comprehension and production of Romanian pronouns.

Please join us, virtually, to hear Rodica present her thesis! We ask that people register for this virtual Zoom defense in advance at the link below:

Cycle Linguists webchat launches

Mara Breen (Mt. Holyoke) and Brian Dillon (UMass Linguistics) are hosting the first ever Cycle Linguists web chat on 6/22. The Cycle Linguists is an occasional psycholinguistics oriented webchat in the Virtual CUNY style. The first webchat will feature Yujing Huang and Fernanda Ferreira, presenting a talk entitled “Lingering misinterpretations of garden-path sentences: Incorrect syntactic representations or fallible memory processes?’ with after-talk discussion led by Maayan Keshev (Tel Aviv) and Patrick Sturt (Edinburgh). To register, click here: , and for more announcements, follow @cyclinglings on Twitter!

This is an experimental webchat, but is hopefully the first in a series. Mara and Brian would be very happy for any local volunteers who would like to get involved in hosting or organizing the webchats! Please get in touch if you are interested.

Keshev and Pizarro-Guevara to UMass

We’re very lucky to welcome two post-doctoral scholars to the department in the upcoming academic year!

Maayan Keshev (Ph.D. 2020) is coming to us from Tel-Aviv University, where she is currently a student in Aya Metzler-Asscher’s lab. Maayan is a psycholinguist with special expertise in real-time sentence processing in Hebrew. She has worked on processing filler-gap and presumptive pronoun dependencies, probabilistic noisy-channel processing, and verbal and reflexive agreement, with a special focus on Hebrew. She is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to do post-doctoral research at UMass Amherst, where she will focus on developing her skills in eye-tracking and sentence processing.

Jed Sam Pizarro-Guevara (Ph.D. 2020) is currently finishing his dissertation in the Department of Linguistics at UC Santa Cruz, where he is working with Matt Wagers and Sandy Chung. Jed is a psycholinguist and experimental syntactician, with a focus on Austronesian languages (Tagalog and Dabaw Bisaya). He has particular expertise in field psycholinguistics, research that balances traditional, community-oriented fieldwork with real-time processing methodologies from experimental psycholinguistics. Using this approach, he has worked on processing relative clauses in Tagalog, the impact of Austronesian voice on real-time dependency formation, individual variation in the grammars of extraction in Austronesian, and the role of animacy in real-time comprehension in Santiago Laxopa Zapotec. At UMass, he will be working on eye-tracking in the visual world and the processing of pronouns in English and Tagalog.

A huge welcome to both Maayan and Jed: We’re looking forward to seeing you before long!

CUNY 2020 an incredible success

From Sarah Gibbons, of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts:

Set to take place on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus from March 19 through 21, the 33rd Annual CUNY Human Sentence Processing Conference seemed doomed in the face of mounting concerns and decisions to cancel events and transition to remote working and learning in response to the spread of COVID-19. Determined to carry forward with decades of interdisciplinary scholarly tradition and connection, UMass Amherst community members worked fast beginning on March 8 to transition the conference, also known as CUNY 2020, completely online.

Associate Professor Brian Dillon (top left) and other participants of CUNY 2020.

Led by Brian Dillon, associate professor in the UMass Amherst Department of Linguistics, a 24-person team of UMass and Five College faculty members, graduate students, and CUNY community members from other institutions worked quickly to cancel on-site arrangements, communicate with attendees and speakers, organize video and webinar technology, and move the conference online in ten days. No small feat, as the team had been planning the physical conference since the summer of 2018. “Our decision to cancel had the full support of the Provost and event services, and this support was critical in allowing to cancel as early as we did,” said Dillon.

Dillon, who hasn’t missed a CUNY conference since 2006, emphasized that this feat was “very definitely” a team effort. “One person whose work should be especially recognized is Jon Burnsky. Jon is a PhD student in Psychological and Brain Sciences here, and he is our official CUNY Graduate RA. He did a lot of work to set up live-streaming for the physical conference; his work laid the groundwork for our virtual conference. We were able to virtualize so quickly because of the work he had put in ahead of time,” said Dillon.

The online format added an unexpected tone of lightheartedness and relief to many experiencing serious disruption in their lives. “I was surprised at how connected this allowed us to feel,” recalls Dillon. “This allowed us to feel like we were making connections and giving a sense of community and normalcy in difficult times.” “It was also just plain fun in ways I hadn’t expected,” he said, feeling at times like he and the co-organizers were “thrown into the role of radio show host, rather than organizers of an academic conference. We would banter, crack jokes, take questions from the audience during downtime. It allowed for a sense of levity that I think some participants appreciated at this moment.”

People from 44 countries participated in CUNY 2020. “The top four were the USA, Germany, the UK, and China,” said Dillon. “The large Chinese participation is notable because of the 12-hour time difference. Chinese colleagues reported staying up late into the night to catch talks.”

One conference attendee and session chair, Colin Phillips, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Maryland and Director of the Maryland Language Science Center, called Dillon’s leadership of CUNY 2020, “an incredible success.”

“The conference normally draws 200-300 in-person attendees,” said Phillips. “There was a broad concern that few people would want to participate in the remote format. In contrast, over 1,000 people took part over the course of the 3 days, with peak participation of 300-350 simultaneous participants in some sessions.” According to Phillips, about 20 people at the University of Maryland participated in a virtual watch party and communicated through the remote workplace communication tool, Slack. Because of this, Phillips explained, “the conference even helped us feel more connected locally. We heard of various other similar activities at other institutions.”

Reflecting on the unique and challenging circumstances facing universities during the COVID-19 crisis, Phillips went on to say, “The past couple of weeks have seen unprecedented changes in how universities operate. It seems like everything is changing from day to day. Brian and the UMass team made people feel that they were connected, despite the upheaval. But they also made people feel like they were witnessing something special that they hadn’t seen before. This conference has built up a strong following in its 33 years. Many people, myself included, have attended almost all of them. At this point I think there’s little doubt that this was the most memorable of them all.”

The CUNY conference, which was originally founded at the City University of New York Graduate Center by Janet Dean Fodor, is a major event in the psycholinguistics subfield of linguistics (it is now primarily hosted by other institutions, but retains the name). It is highly interdisciplinary, with strong contributions from researchers in Linguistics, Psychology, Neuroscience, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Education, and Philosophy. “It is one of the central North American venues for researchers interested in psycholinguistics,” explains Dillon, “it is well attended by both linguists and by psychologists, and creates lots of productive interdisciplinary cross-talk.”

“UMass Amherst is a special place to host CUNY for many reasons,” said Dillon. “First, we have a very strong tradition in psycholinguistics. Our community goes back to the late 70’s and early 80’s, lead by researchers in psychology (Chuck Clifton Jr., Keith Rayner, Alexander Pollatsek, and Jerry Myers), and in linguistics (Lyn Frazier, Tom Roeper).” The UMass Amherst linguistics department, ranked No. 2 worldwide, is known for having a strong psycholinguistics program, and, “hosting CUNY further increases our community’s visibility,” said Dillon.

The UMass Amherst community has been involved with the CUNY conference since the beginning, but this is the first year that the campus has hosted since 1993. “Back then,” remarks Dillon, “incidentally, our conference coincided with a famous blizzard that stranded many people and prevented them from coming to the conference.”