Symmetry and asymmetry in (morpho-)phonological representation and processing
University of Oxford
Language processing (comprehension and production) and language change do not happen in a void, but through grammars being acquired, used and reanalyzed during the course of an individual’s life time. The research presented here defends our model, the Featurally Underspecified Lexicon (FUL), which claims that variation in speech can be resolved by assuming that the representation of words is phonologically sparse. The assumption is that privative underspecified feature representations, which can account for a number of asymmetries typical and pertinacious in synchronic and diachronic phonological systems, are also responsible for asymmetries for word recognition. Nevertheless, certain phonological processes such as dissimulations presuppose full specification. In terms of cross-linguistic phonological typology, asymmetric phonological representations lead to asymmetry in alternations and are predicted to
have different consequences in processing, which in turn, would lead to asymmetry in change.
The hypothesis we entertain is that the two types presuppose different representations: assimilations can be accounted for as feature-spreading, possibly invoking underspecification, while dissimilations must assume full specification. These representational-cum-process assumptions make asymmetric predictions about on-line processing and resolving of such variations. The talk will present a phonological sketch of the model along with evidence from a series of psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic experiments from German, English and Bengali.
(How/when) does langauge change in healthy older adults?
CUNY – City University of New York
While much of language processes remain constant through older adulthood, lexical retrieval, sentence processing and some aspects of pragmatics decline with advancing age. The question of interest is the extent to which these language changes are due to changes in language regions of the brain per se or whether they are secondary to changes in cognitive abilities underlying language. In this lecture I point out indications that language networks may themselves be impaired while decline in various types of memory and executive function appears to contribute to poorer language and communication performance in the domains of deficit as well.
Language mixing and its importance for theories of grammar
NTNU – Norwegian University of Science and Technology
UiT The Arctic University of Norway
Einar Haugen (1953) put the heritage language American Norwegian on the international research stage, in particular in studies of language contact. With the new Corpus of American Norwegian Speech (CANS; Johannessen 2015), American Norwegian has regained a prominent role, this time most notably in theoretical linguistics. In this talk, I will consider recent work based on CANS that has studied aspects of the grammar of American Norwegian, in particular focusing on code switching/language mixing. A range of different mixing patterns will be documented and given a formal analysis. The data will be argued to provide support for a specific formal analysis which crucially distinguishes between the abstract syntactic structure and its morphophonological realizations. I will also discuss the role of multilingual data such as American Norwegian in advancing our models of humans’ grammatical competence.
Facing the challenge of general linguistics where nature doesn’t help us: Toward an IPA of morphosyntax
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH Jena)
I start by pointing out a deep problem of grammatical research that is rarely addressed: That we want to understand Human Language but have only particular languages to observe, and that we cannot simply transfer analyses and categories from one language to another. Nature could help us by restricting the possible building blocks of grammar to a few dozen or a few hundred (as it helps us in chemistry by restricting the number of elements), but linguistics currently has no promising research programme that would give us reason for optimism in this regard – grammatical structures seem to be similar to lexical structures in that they allow an open-ended and highly variable range of features and categories, which need to be described in language-particular terms. But languages do not vary randomly in their grammatical structures, and we want to formulate the limitations and also ultimately explain them. This can be done by a set of artificial comparative concepts, which are not claimed to correspond to “nature’s joints”, but merely serve the practical purpose of allowing comparison, just like the symbols of the IPA. I will discuss some grammatical universals of argument coding (e.g. differential object marking) and propose explanations for them which do not make reference to natural kinds, but to much more general principles of efficient behaviour. The concrete programme that follows from this view is not to aim for a Mendeleev-style “table of linguistic elements”, but to propose a set of standard comparative concepts for grammar, like Paul Passy’s IPA symbols, which have served the discipline so well.