Category Archives: Lectures

Lectures run by the society.

Cognitive biases and word order universals in the lab

The 1 March lecture will be given by Jennifer Culbertson and will be about cognitive biases in word ordering.

Abstract: In this talk, I will discuss the connection between the typological distribution of word orders in the noun phrase, and cognitive biases active during learning. In particular, I set out two such biases – one for structural simplicity, and one for semantic naturalness – and test how they interact to drive the behavior of adults and children in a series of artificial language learning experiments. The findings across these experiments suggest that developmental and native language transfer effects play a role in how new linguistic patterns are learned. Nevertheless, both simplicity and naturalness also shape learning outcomes in a way that aligns closely with the typology, providing a possible explanation for the frequency of particular patterns across the world’s languages.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.

Don’t forget to join us at the pub afterwards!

 

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Filled Pauses as a Sociolinguistic Variable?

The 15 February lecture will be given by Josef Fruehwald and will be about filled pauses. The abstract is as follows:

Since at least the 1960s, sociolinguists have tried to account for variable linguistic behavior by using “Variable Rules.” These are supposed to be rules of grammar, like any other, except they’ve got probabilities attached to them. This tendency has spread out now to other subfields of linguistics where the “probabilities in the grammar” approach is more or less taken for granted. However, there is a growing body of work questioning whether this is the right direction. I’ll be discussing this in the context of a change occurring in English where speakers are more likely to say um/erm instead of uh/er when they use a filled pause. This change looks like a textbook example of a sociolinguistic variable, except it’s not clear that we’d want to apply a variable rules style analysis to it, because it would be strange to say that there is a special grammatical rule for when people experience disfluencies.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.

Don’t forget to join us at the pub afterwards!

 

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Sounds and letters we don’t remember: The mystery of second language word recognition

Welcome to the first LangSoc lecture of the second semester! The lecture will be given by Edinburgh’s own Mits Ota. The lecture is titled “Sounds and letters we don’t remember: The mystery of second language word recognition” and the abstract can be found below.

“Remembering words in a foreign language can be a challenge when they contain sounds that don’t exist in your native language. Can we expect this problem to go away once you have mastered those new sounds? In this talk, I will draw on my own research to shed light on this question, and more broadly, on the issue of what happens in our mind when we learn, store and access the sound forms of second language words.”

Please note that this semester’s lectures are in LT1, not LT2 like last semester.

Doors at 18:00 for an 18:15 start.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Don’t forget, everyone is invited to join us at the pub after the lecture!

 

 

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Language change: diversity and directionality

For the last lecture of the semester (30th November) we will have a talk by Nik Gisborne. He will be talking about language change, with the following abstract:

Why are human languages so diverse when humans must all have the same cognitive structures, and the same communicative needs? Where does the diversity come from? And what do we make of the fact that language change often appears to be directional? How is it that we can see general trends in how languages change?

In this talk, I discuss some joint work I’m doing with Rob Truswell which sets out to explain why the Indo-European languages, and some other languages in the same geographical area, have relative pro-forms (such as the who in I dislike the man who stole the election), when these proforms are very rare cross-linguistically. Along the way, I’ll speculate wildly about language acquisition, language contact, and the sources of directionality in language change. The main claim will be that small changes in the lexical specifications of words can lead to apparently big diachronic processes.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the pub afterwards!

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.

 

 

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Speech accommodation in international workplaces

On 16 November, Claire Cowie will give a lecture on speech accommodation theory and phonetic convergence in professional settings, especially outsourced call centres. Her abstract can be found below.

Accommodation theory predicts that in service encounters, the agent is likely to converge
linguistically towards the customer (Coupland 1984). Yet this prediction has not been tested in the more recent context of outsourcing which has brought about new situations of dialect contact on the telephone.

In this study speakers of Indian English complete a maptask (Anderson et al 1991, Brown 1995, Lindemann 2002) on the telephone with a speaker of American English, in order to determine whether they converge towards American English variants. This is tested for a phonological variable for which there is a distinct American English variant and a distinct Indian English variant, namely the BATH vowel. These variables appear in the landmark names of the maps (staff room, biology class etc.). Sixteen Indian participants from an IT company based in Pune described a route around a map to an American (based in the UK) and a fellow Indian in the control. Half of the Indian participants regularly deal with customers or colleagues in the US on the telephone (the “exposure” group), and the other half do not work with Americans at all. For each Indian-American call the American English speaker read out a list of the landmarks prior to the task to prime the Indian participant.

Most speakers showed some convergence in the BATH vowel, after taking phonetic environment and word frequency into account. For certain speakers fronting was consistent, but for most there was evidence of some “shadowing” without actual convergence. Level of fronting did not depend so much on time spent on calls as attitudes towards the American interlocutor, and interaction with Americans in and outside of India.

This experimental setting allows us to assess convergence in the absence of any explicit instructions to adopt American pronunciation, which are sometimes directly or indirectly present in Indian call centres (Cowie 2007, Cowie and Murty 2010, Poster 2007). There is also value in determining whether convergence is likely in an essentially co-operative encounter between these two groups of speakers.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the pub afterwards!

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.

 

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T-to-R in Northern English

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For November’s first lecture (on the 2nd), Patrick Honeybone is going to tell us about T-to-R in Northern English.

Abstract:

One widely accepted approach in phonology argues that phonological phenomena fundamentally come in two flavours. The most influential implementation of this idea distinguishes between ‘lexical’ and ‘postlexical’ processes, deriving the difference from the structure of the linguistic grammar. The two types of processes are expected to have different properties: lexical processes cannot occur across word-boundaries because the elements in which they apply (‘words’) have not yet been organised into phrases, and postlexical processes cannot refer to individual words because the units in which they apply (‘phrases’) exist at a point in the grammar at which the identity of individual words is unrecoverable.

The distinction between lexical and postlexical phenomena is called into question by the existence of what Wells (1982) calls ‘T-to-R’. This is a phenomenon (found across the north of England) in which there is phonological variation of the following kind: if a vowel follows the segment in question, the form features a variety’s normal realisation of /r/; elsewhere, the forms feature the variety’s normal realisation for /t/. This means that ‘I got one book’ would have a [t] in ‘got’, because a /w/ follows, while ‘I got a book’ could have a rhotic. The surprising thing about T-to-R is that, while it occurs across word boundaries (as in the last example) and so shows a fundamental characteristic of postlexical phonology, it is also lexically specific, which is a fundamental characteristic of lexical phonology: for example, a rhotic is possible in ‘not again’, but not in ‘knot again’. T-to-R thus seem to mix properties of the two types of phonological processes: it is neither one type or the other, and thus seems to be impossible (if the lexical/postlexical distinction is correct).

In this talk I will show that T-to-R is not impossible, after all. (Which is rather handy as it certainly exists….) The explanation requires us to consider the kinds of phonological changes that have occurred in the relevant dialects, and the status of underlying forms.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the pub afterwards!

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.

 

 

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Postgrad Lecture Night

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Welcome to LangSoc’s annual Postgrad Lecture night! On 19 October we will be joined by various speakers on the world of postgraduate studies in linguistics, from current students to PPLS Careers Consultant Janet Fosyth and Mits Ota, Programme Director for one of Edinburgh’s many MSc Linguistics programmes.

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the pub afterwards!

18:00 doors for an 18:15 start.

 

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Towards a historical sociology of language

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This week’s lecture talk will be given by Robert McColl Millar of the University of Aberdeen, and will be about the historical sociology of language. His abstract is as follows:

Macrosociolinguistics, or the Sociology of Language, represents the study of the ways in which culture, politics and economics interrelate with the use of language. Inevitably, the discipline needs a diachronic perspective to understand the synchronic environment. The former is very much ancillary to the latter, however. But what happens if we consider the fluid and progressive nature of the developing linguistic use of societies across time. This presentation considers these forces at work both in an era which is relatively well understood – 19th century Europe – and in another – early medieval Europe – which is generally unknown beyond the work of specific scholars. It will illustrate the comparative features which demonstrate both change and continuity in the social use of language.

Everyone is welcome to join us at the pub afterwards!

Free entry for members, £2 for non-members.

Doors at 18:00 for a 18:15 start.

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