List of past lectures

2017-01-18 Mits Ota Sounds and letters we don't remember: The mystery of second language word recognition 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.
2016-11-30 Nik Gisborne Language change: diversity and directionality 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.
2016-11-16 Claire Cowie Speech accommodation in international workplaces 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.
2016-11-02 Patrick Honeybone T-to-R in Northern English 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).
2016-10-05 Robert McColl Millar Towards a historical sociology of language 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.
2016-09-21 Bob Ladd Singing in tone languages – not so mysterious? Speakers of European languages who discover the existence of tone languages are almost invariably mystified, and a question that often comes up is “So how do they sing?” In the past 15 years there has been quite a lot of research on this question, some of it here in Edinburgh, and the answer appears to have two parts. The boringly obvious part is that a lot of language use, including song lyrics, is pretty predictable, so mangling the phonetic shape of words may not make much difference to intelligibility. (The same applies to whispering in languages with voicing contrasts!) The more interesting part is that pairing a song text with a tune in a tone language involves various expectations about what ‘fits’ or sounds right. (The same kinds of expectations apply to the placement of stressed and unstressed syllables relative to a tune in English songs.) All tone languages that have been investigated seem to approach this problem of matching tune and text in remarkably similar ways.
2016-05-11 David Crystal Language and the Internet What influence is the Internet having on language, and what is happening to language as it comes to be used on the Internet? There is a great deal of misleading popular mythology, which needs to be replaced by precise linguistic description. The talk presents the view that the Internet is in some respects a linguistic revolution, introducing new opportunities for communication, but that its influence on individual languages has so far been quite limited.
2016-03-23 Lauren Hall-Lew Tartan, Haggis, and Accents: The value of Scottish English to Scotland’s tourism economy The last few decades have seen a rapid rise in studies documenting the commodification of language (e.g., Irvine 1989, Haeri 1997, Cameron 2000, Heller 2010, Duchêne & Heller 2012). This work, founded on Bourdieu's (1977, et seq.) theory of the 'linguistic marketplace', shows how linguistic forms have over time become commodities that either give value to the material goods they accompany or are treated as directly exchangable for material wealth. The international tourism economy is one of the major contexts for scholarship in the study of linguistic commodification (e.g., Heller 2003, Thurlow & Jaworski 2010, Pietikäinen & Kelly-Holmes 2011, Gao 2012). Heritage tourism, where the travel goal is to experience cultural authenticity, is one area where non-standard linguistic varieties are being made available as products for consumption. In this talk I will report on my ongoing work on the commodification of language in the Edinburgh tourism industry.
2016-02-24 Josef Fruehwald Simplicity vs Evidence in Phonological Change There's a big change happening in how Philadelphians pronounce their /æ/ vowel. There are two allophones, one "tense" [ɛː ~ ɪə] and one "lax" [æ], and what is changing is where these two allophones show up. There is the traditional Philadelphia System, which is really complicated, and the Nasal System, which is really simple. More and more Philadelphians are using the Nasal System, and one intuitive explanation for why this is is that speakers are drawn to the simpler grammar. However, I'll try to argue that this intuitive idea doesn't really stand up to evidence. In this talk, I'll explain how the Philadelphia System works (which is pretty fun), and explore how recent work on rule productivity (Yang, 2005) and Grammar Competition (Yang, 2000; 2002) suggest that something more subtle is going on here than grammar simplification.
2016-02-10 Rhona Alcorn Re-Inventing Spelling In Middle English Middle English is renowned for the astonishing number of spellings for what are single words with fixed spellings today. The word through, for example, is famously attested in several hundred different forms, e.g. þurh, þoreu, þorð, þurᵹh, thowrw, thurg, ðureh, torch. This lecture will (i) consider the socio-historical background to this extraordinary period in the history of written English and (ii) explore some of its orthographic consequences. We will see that much of the variation in medieval English spelling is perfectly systematic, and surprisingly little is due to scribal error.
2016-01-27 Eytan Zweig Pragmatic and linguistic effects on plural reference: a visual world study It is commonly assumed that plural nouns are used to refer to multiple instances of the relevant object. For example, the sentence “Mary saw elephants” is understood to mean that Mary saw more than one elephant. However, semantic research (Corbett 2000, Krifka 2004, Spector 2007, Zweig 2008, among others) has shown the reality to be more complex. For example, the question “Did Mary see elephants?” can be answered in the affirmative even if she only saw a single elephant. Similarly, “All my friends own cars” (a 'dependent plural') is judged as true even if no one of my friends owns more than one car.In my dissertation (Zweig 2008) I have shown that such examples provide evidence that “more than one” is not part of the semantic contribution of the plural form. Rather, it arises from a complex interaction of pragmatic inference and the representation of events in grammar. In recent years, several groups of researchers conducted experiments that provided additional support to this view (Pearson et al. 2010, Anand et al. 2011).However, what these experiments have in common is the fact that they were based on offline measures, i.e. the results were based on measuring sentence responses after the sentences were heard/read, rather than during. This allows us to conclude that the "more than one" meaning can be separated from the meaning of the plural, but not to answer the resulting puzzle – if "more than one" is not the semantic contribution of the plural form, what is?In this talk, I will present the problem and describe two eye-tracking experiments designed to provide the groundwork for an answer. The first will investigate how different types of sentences affect plural reference, and the second will investigate the effect of the type of scene being examined. Combined, these experiments will allow for a better understanding of reference resolution of plural forms in natural language.
2016-01-13 Jeremy Smith Language and Ideology in the Sixteenth Century: Religion, Politics and Spelling Reform Since the late nineteenth century, spelling reform of the English language has become a minority pursuit, although the English Spelling Society still exists and indeed its American branch has picketed events such as Spelling Bees as recently as 2004. But no-one has been burned at the stake for adopting a particular English spelling-practice.Things were rather different in the sixteenth century, and my paper will discuss how spelling became a vector of ideology during the Reformation, both in England and in Scotland.
2015-12-02 Bert Remijsen The range of the possible in tone In relation to tone contrasts, there are two key dimensions: a) the tone height level of the targets, and b) their relative timing within the syllable they are associated with, also known as tonal alignment. In terms of the phonological representation, the former dimension (tone height) has been the subject of long-standing debate (see e.g. Anderson 1978; Yip 1980, 2002; Clements, Michaud & Patin 2011; Hyman 2010). There is evidence that a five-way contrast in height is possible (Wedekind 1983, Kuang 2013), although it has been hypothesized that such a contrast requires the involvement of phonation as a secondary correlate (Kuang 2013). In relation to the latter dimension, i.e., tonal alignment, there has long been a consensus that alignment is not contrastive in contour tones (e.g. Hyman 1988, Odden 1995, Yip 2002). However, recent investigations into Dinka (Remijsen 2013), Mixtec (DiCanio, Amith & Castillo García 2014) and Shilluk (Remijsen & Ayoker 2014) indicate that tonal alignment can be contrastive. Specifically, tonal alignment in contour tones appears to be distinctive in a binary fashion. The phonetic realisation of patterns of tonal alignment lends support to the hypothesis that this binary division results from a quantal threshold, and that contour tones set in on either side of this threshold (House 1990, Remijsen 2013). These findings have implications for the study of tonal alignment in general, also in languages where this dimension is not contrastive.
2015-11-20 Chris Cummins Reasoning with numbers in language There’s a substantial literature on the semantics and pragmatics of quantity expressions, including those involving number. This literature has only tangentially connected to the celebrated body of research on cognitive biases, which has been argued to show that humans are predictably irrational in certain aspects of reasoning. However, some pragmaticists have raised the concern that there are linguistic confounds in some of the most striking experimental demonstrations of human irrationality. In this talk I sketch some of the pragmatic inferences that are licensed by the use of expressions of numerical quantity, and consider how these might emerge in reasoning paradigms, and what implications this might have.
2015-11-18 Xin Chen Postgrad Mini Lecture Night – "Verb-Noun Compounding in English and German" I have been interested in morphology and word formation in English and German. V-N compounding is a type of word-formation that reveals a clear-cut contrast between English and German word formation. German Verb-Noun compounding is highly productive and allows for a wide range of semantic patterns, e.g. Bratpfanne ‘frying pan’, Gefrierpunkt‘freezing point’, Machart ‘working style’. However, English avoids Verb-Noun combination, preferring Noun-Noun (e.g. racehorse, playground) and Verb-gerund-Noun (e.g. drinking-water, washing-machine). The research aims to explain the reason of the Verb-Noun compounding difference between English and German.The two languages differ in the interpretation of the compounds’ first constituent. English, unlike German, has unrestricted verb-noun conversion, which provides the possibility of Noun-Noun interpretation for most Verb-Noun compounds. The different lexical stratification is hypothesized to explain the difference in German and English Verb-Noun compounding. According to Principles of Base-driven Stratification, English has two lexical strata – root and word. German additionally has a stem-stratum in between. Verb-stem-Noun combination is expected not to exist in English.
2015-11-18 James Reid Postgrad Mini Lecture Night – "Sub-sentential Coherence" Discourse coherence as a theoretical stance has been used to analyse a range of cross-sentential phenomena, but much less has been said about how it might be used in the sub-sentential domain. In this talk, I lay out a research agenda that seeks to establish how discourse coherence (specifically, coherence relations) might be used to explain ordering preferences for 'loose' syntactic units such as non-restrictive relative clauses and noun phrases in apposition. Much of my previous research has focused on how this question should be answered for free adjuncts, and I tentatively hypothesise that the constraints I indentified for these should hold in some form for other sub-sententential syntactic units as well.
2015-11-18 Laura Arnold Postgrad Mini Lecture Night – "On the Head of a Bird: Postgraduate research in West Papua" In this talk, I will give a brief outline of my PhD project, a documentation and description of Ambel, an endangered language spoken in West Papua, Indonesia. I will summarise how I went about collecting data, and what I've discovered so far. I will focus on how the University has supported this research in terms of finances, facilities, and expertise, as well as looking briefly at what opportunities are available to postgrad students in terms of professional development.
2015-11-18 Maki Kubota Postgrad Mini Lecture Night – "First Language Acquisition and Second Language Attrition in Japanese Bilingual Returnees" Japanese bilingual returnees are children who spend some time of their education abroad due to their parent’s profession and eventually return to Japan with their family.I will touch on some theories and hypotheses regarding language attrition, and some studies which tested these hypotheses. I will also talk about my timeline for completing my research,and perhaps about the publication scheme which was introduced this year by Mits Ota.
2015-11-04 Ekaterina Matveeva Language and Ideology in the Sixteenth Century: Religion, Politics andSecondary Linguistic Personality and associative effects in vocabulary mapping of L3 Spelling Reform The talk will cover the research on the secondary linguistic personality in the process of language acquisition. Also questions related to the associative effects in vocabulary mapping in the process of L3 acquisition will be touched upon.
2015-10-21 Robert McColl Millar Near-relative linguistic contact – contrastive evidence from the history of English Most linguistic contact takes place between varieties which are, at most, distantly related to each other. Varieties which are closely related to each other do come into contact with each other, however. Are there differences in outcome between these two types of contact? Do all near relative contacts produce essentially the same results?In order to address some of these issues, this paper will discuss the effects of two contacts between the same sources: English (taken in its broadest sense) and the North Germanic languages. The results of the contact between Old English and Viking Norse in the late Anglo-Saxon period will be contrasted with the contact between Norn and Scots in Orkney and Shetland in the Early Modern period.
2015-10-07 Mits Ota Baby-Talk Words: Why we have words like ‘tummy’ and ‘choo-choo’ Most languages have a set of vocabulary items known as baby-talk words, words such as ‘tummy’ and ‘choochoo’, which are specifically used when talking to babies and young children. Why do we have baby-talk words? And why do they have similar sound patterns across languages? In this talk, I will discuss some potential explanations for this phenomena, and share the results of our recent research on early word learning that may provide insights into why we have words like ‘tummy’ and ‘choochoo’.
2015-09-15 Wilson MacLeod & Rob Dunbar Gaelic in Scotland: Current Issues and Controversies Surprise topic about Gaelic!
2015-04-01 John E. Joseph Silencing; or, Do trolls just wanna have fun? Research on cyber-trolling has turned up conflicting results, reflecting the deep divide between those who see it as the essentially harmless construction of an on-line pseudo-identity meant to provoke ‘lulz’, and others for whom it is harrassment, threatening behaviour that should be criminalised. The Cambridge historian Mary Beard, who has been on the receiving end of cyber-bullying, experienced it as an attempt at silencing women who have a public platform, and has located it within a tradition that extends from Homeric epic through to her own tormentors. She has furnished me with original screenshots of some of the most disturbing texts she received (Caution: they are not for the faint-hearted), and it is these that we shall examine and analyse within the framework of some basic questions: What is the fundamental function of language? Under what circumstances is it ethical or necessary to silence another? Is there a generational gap in the perception of cyber-trolling, and if so, why?
2015-03-17 Jennifer Smith Parenting Style: From Preschool to Pre-adolescence in the Acquisition of Variation Labov (2001:437) observes that ‘children begin their language development with the pattern transmitted to them by their female caretakers, and any further changes are built on or added to that pattern.’ More specifically, ‘Linguistic variation is transmitted to children as stylistic differentiation on the formal/informal dimension….Formal speech variants are associated by children with instruction and punishment, informal speech with intimacy and fun’ (ibid). The further development in sociolinguistic norms arises when ‘children learn that variants favoured in informal speech are associated with lower social status in the wider community’ (ibid) and ‘later acquisition of superposed dialects’ (Labov 2013:247). Our previous research on preschool children (2-4 year olds) in interaction with their primary caregivers (Smith et al 2007, 2009, 2013) showed that the caregivers used systematic patterns of styleshifting from vernacular to standard with some variables (1) but not with others (2). These patterns of (non)styleshifting were transmitted to the children who faithfully replicated the patterns in their own speech. 1. (child) Are we gan to Isla’s? (caregiver) Uhuh. (child) Are we? (caregiver) Later on, aye. (child) Say yes or no. (caregiver) Aye…yes. (child) No, say yes or no. (caregiver) Yes. 2. (child) Is there pens in there? (caregiver) Aye, there is. (child) My paints are in there. What happens to these patterns of (non)styleshifting once the children move from the vernacular dominated norms of the home to the standard dominated norms of the school? To tackle this question, we returned to the original preschool children now in pre-adolescence (11-13 years old). In order to tap the boundaries of styleshifting between vernacular and standard, we recorded the speakers with a) a community insider who uses the local vernacular and b) a community outsider who uses a very standard dialect and replicated the analyses of variables carried out eight years earlier. In analysing the results, we appeal to Labov’s (1993, 2008) sociolinguistic monitor in interpreting the (lack of) development of styleshifting from preschool to preadolescence, and indeed in later life.
2015-02-11 Jeremy Smith The Linguistics of Punctuation This talk will be looking at the development and impact of punctuation, through a historical pragmatics approach, with a focus on Scottish and English texts from over the centuries.
2014-11-12 Robert Truswell It’s All Relative: Relative Clauses and Diachronic Typology This talk aims to make links between typological patterns and their theoretical explanations. I will focus in particular on the prospects for explaining one particularly unusual typological pattern, which we call “parallel evolution”. Noun phrases like (1), where the relative clause has a wh-phrase in [Spec,CP], are found in roughly 1/2 of modern Indo-European languages, but only 1/40 of other modern languages. (1) The person [[with whom] I saw John __ ] In other words, wh-relatives are an Indo-European thing, more or less. Normally, if a phenomenon is specific to a language family in this way, we glimpse a diachronic explanation: properties of Proto-Indo-European (PIE) may be responsible for the skewed typological distribution of this construction. For instance, if PIE had constructions like (1), we would probably not be surprised if a lot of its daughter languages did too. However, very few attested early IE languages (from more than a couple of thousand years ago) have wh-relatives like (1), so PIE almost certainly didn’t have them either. This means that wh-relatives have developed time and again, in parallel, across Indo-European, but not elsewhere. This is strange: typical models of syntactic change rely on random low-level reanalyses during acquisition, and the distribution of wh-relatives isn’t random. Our aim is to relate this pattern to two factors: first, PIE must have some relevant distinguishing feature, or else the fact that wh-relatives are so concentrated in IE would be a mystery. We identify a likely candidate, a particular type of “correlative” construction. Second, certain types of reanalysis must be more likely than others, so that grammars are more likely to change in some directions than others. We identify certain biases operative in language acquisition that may plausibly lie behind this skew. These two ingredients, we hope, are all we need to explain the unusual typological distribution of wh-relatives. Finally, this is work in progress, and the topic is proving to be a very rich source of research questions. We will do our best to show what it looks like at the relatively early stages of a project like this, and identify open questions and methodologies that could be used to address them.
2014-10-14 Chris Cummins How We Do What We Do With Words The idea that language is used to perform social actions was a central insight of natural language philosophy. In recent decades, this idea has been developed within computational linguistics, particularly in work on dialogue systems, but until recently its psycholinguistic implications have largely been overlooked. In this talk, Dr Chris Cummins looks at some of the psychological issues surrounding “dialogue acts”, introduces some of the open questions and discusses how experimental research might help us address them.
2014-04-02 Will Lamb Designing a Part-of-Speech Tagger for Scottish Gaelic Language technology for Scottish Gaelic remains in an incipient state, compared to recent progress in the area for other European minority languages. It is crucial to provide certain key computational resources and tools for Gaelic if it is to participate fully in future, data-rich research paradigms, and a variety of NLP-driven applications, which would benefit a range of end users. The Carnegie Trust and Bòrd na Gaelic funded project, ‘An on-line part-of-speech (POS) tagger and gold-standard corpus of Scottish Gaelic’ was devised to help address this situation, with three main aims: (1) Develop a hand-tagged ‘gold-standard’ corpus (GSC) of Scottish Gaelic; (2) Develop a POS tagger with an accuracy level of 97%, tested on the GSC; (3) Make these resources freely available on the internet As this one-year project approaches its half-way mark, Will Lamb will be reporting on work-in-progress. In particular, he will be taking stock of some of the challenges of instantiating an NLP pipeline with an under-standardised and morphologically rich language. The Gaelic nominal system, for example, is notably complex and is sensitive to variation conditioned by dialect, register and age. Dr Lamb will also present the results from their first statistically-induced tagger, based upon a finalized 12k word subset of the 80k word corpus.
2014-01-15 Ed Robertson Esperanto – The Used-to-Be Artificial Language In 1887 Esperanto was launched as yet another proposal for a universal language. In the 30 years between then and its founder’s death in 1917, it acquired fluent speakers in many parts of the world, the gaps in the launch prospectus’s vocabulary started being filled in, and Esperanto’s expressiveness was extended by speakers exploiting the flexibility of the language. In the early years of the 20th century there is the first documented case of a native speaker. Zamenhof’s founding grammar claimed to have only 16 rules, and had a wordlist of under 1000 entries; today’s standard reference grammar of Esperanto, Wennergren’s Plena Manlibro de Esperanta Gramatiko, has nearly 700 pages, and the largest monolingual Esperanto paper dictionary has just under 47000 entries. While Esperanto has not come anywhere near its founder’s fantasies of solving the world’s communication problems, and today probably still has fewer than 50000 currently active fluent speakers worldwide, of whom perhaps less than 1000 are native speakers, it has survived almost 127 years, it is spoken all over the planet, has had three nominees for the Nobel Prize in Literature in recent years, and the Esperanto-language Wikipedia is 32nd in size among the languages of the world, just behind Turkish and Kazakh, and just ahead of Slovak and Danish. So, is Esperanto a real language now?
2013-11-20 Alice Turk Speech Rhythm: A Commentary This will be tied to a published article she co-authored just this year of the same name.
2013-11-06 Riikka Möttönen Investigating auditory-motor processing of speech sounds using transcranial magnetic stimulatio The link between speech perception and production is still poorly understood. Growing evidence shows that regions in the motor cortex that control the movements of the articulators (e.g., lips) activate during listening to speech. Whether these motor regions contribute to speech perception is under active debate. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) provides a powerful tool to investigate the role of the articulatory motor cortex in speech perception. In this talk, I will first present evidence that TMS-induced disruption of the lip motor representation impairs discrimination of speech sounds that differ in the place of articulation, supporting the idea that the articulatory motor cortex contributes to speech perception. I will then present evidence that the TMS-induced disruption of the lip motor representation modulates early auditory-cortex responses to speech sounds measured using electro- and magnetoencephalography. I will argue that these findings show that the auditory and motor cortex interact during speech processing. I will also discuss the effect of attention on these auditory-motor interactions.
2013-10-30 Mark Steedman The Ghost in the Machine: Linguistics and Computation Almost sixty years ago, Chomsky 1957 placed automata-theory at the centre of linguistic theory, arguing that natural languages were beyond the context-free recognition capabilities of pushdown automata, and raising the question of exactly what level of automata theoretic expressive complexity would be the minimum needed to capture natural languages. The interest of the question lies in the fact that most natural linguistic phenomena, despite the important exceptions, seem to be context-free, prompting the conjecture that there might exist a “mildly context sensitive” natural family of languages with a little more expressive power, but with comparably attractive computational properties, and consequent increased linguistic explanatory adequacy. Transformational rules themselves turned out to be too expressive to be of automata theoretic interest in this sense, and mainstream linguistics has shown little interest in the question since. However, in recent years there have been a number of proposals for less expressive formalisms from computational linguists who build practical devices for tasks like question-answering and machine translation. I’ll review some of these developments in non-technical linguistic terms, using examples from various languages, and draw some conclusions for understanding problematic notions such as universal grammar, the role of statistical models, and the course of language acquisition in children as observed by psychologists.
2013-03-13 Kenny Smith Why languages have rules (and why rules have exceptions) Language is unique among the communication systems of the natural world in that it is structured: we convey complex meanings by constructing complex utterances in a predictable, rule-governed manner. While structure in language is sometimes explained as a consequence of biological evolution of the human capacity for language – a reflection of our ‘language instinct’ – I will present a mix of experimental and simulation data which shows that linguistic structure arises as a result of cultural evolution. Languages change as they are transmitted and used in populations, and languages which exhibit rules and regularities that language learners can identify and exploit are better able to survive this transmission process. I’ll also present some very recent work which suggests, tentatively, that irregularity – exceptions to linguistic rules – might be explained in the same way, as linguistic adaptations that facilitate language transmission and use.
2013-02-13 Yvonne McLaren-Hankin Language, linguistics and business communication This talk will focus on business communication, or business discourse as Bargiela-Chiappini et al. (2007) term it, which “is all about how people communicate using talk or writing in commercial organisations in order to get their work done” (Bargiela-Chiappini et al. 2007: 3). Because of the complex nature of businesses and organisations and the multitude of purposes people have when communicating at work, business communication is a vast field covering communication within organisations as well as communication between organisations and external audiences, and various types of communication in the middle, targeting diverse, mixed audience groups. In this talk I will adopt a text-based approach to the study of business communication for mainly external audiences. I will aim to show how theoretical models and frameworks from linguistics (broadly defined) can be employed in the study of business communication to help us understand how organisations communicate with the outside world in terms of the language forms and strategies they use in texts and some of the underpinning motivations. In the first part of the talk I will provide an overview of existing research in the field, highlighting in particular a number of key business genres studied to date. In the second part I will present the results of two research projects I have been involved in, one on corporate press releases and one on promotional texts used by companies in the Scottish cashmere industry.
2013-01-30 Robin Lickley Fluency and Disfluency Linguistics has traditionally been most concerned with describing the regularities that can be found in language. The focus has been on linguistic competence, rather than performance. With this view of language, there is little need for a concept of ‘fluency’: If the rules work, the output will be fluent by default. Yet, when linguistic performance is the focus of study, it seems very difficult for researchers to specify and agree upon a clear definition of ‘fluency’. In everyday speech, fluency breaks down, with great regularity. Hesitations in a number of different forms, repetitions, error-repair sequences and other interruptions cause breaks in fluency with great regularity. Whatever the word means, everyday speech is rarely ‘fluent’ for long. When people learn a new language, fluency in that language may become their ultimate goal. Yet the definition of ‘fluency’ in the second language learning world is not universally agreed. In clinical areas of speech and language pathology, fluency can break down in several different ways, as a result of stroke, or in verbal dyspraxia or so- called ‘disorders of fluency’ (stuttering and cluttering). The fact that terms like ‘fluent aphasia’ and ‘disorders of fluency’ are commonly used, might suggest that clinicians have a clear view of what ‘fluency’ is. They don’t. When fluency breaks down, a variety of terms are in use to describe the resulting speech; hesitation, pausing, non-fluency, dysfluency and disfluency to name but a few. In research on problems in typical speech, the term ‘disfluency’ is increasingly used and abused. But it is not universally accepted and has no universally-agreed meaning. In second language learning, ‘non-fluency’ may be preferred to ‘disfluency’. In speech pathology, ‘disfluency’ is often replaced by ‘dysfluency’. In this talk, I discuss some of the ways that the word ‘fluency’ and its negative forms are used abused and confused in all of these fields. I ask what’s happening in the speech production mechanism when fluency breaks down. And I discuss why typical disfluency could be a learning goal for language learners and a therapy goal in clinical cases.
2013-01-16 Nik Gisborne Word grammar and the grammaticalization of new morphology In this paper, I model the grammaticalization of new morphology in Word Grammar, focusing on the genesis of Modern French’s future tense. Word Grammar is organised around a default inheritance architecture, within a network model of language where it is argued that language is part of general cognition and not a discrete module; WG morphology falls in the lexeme-based tradition. It is a commonplace of research in grammaticalization that there is a cline in the processes of grammatical change, given in (1), which I’ve taken from Hopper and Traugott (2003: 142). (1) Lexical item in a specific syntantic context > clitic > affix There is plenty of evidence for such changes, such as the emergence of Romance future tenses. For example, je chanterai ‘I will sing’ ultimately derives from the construction in (2), not the Latin future in (3). (2) Habeo cantare Have-1SG:PRES sing-INF ‘I have to sing’ (3) Cantabo Sing-1SG:FUT ‘I will sing’ Hopper and Traugott (2003: 52-55) sketch a story from examples such as (2) to the modern French future of je chanterai, which claims that first there is a change in word order, so that habeo comes after the infinitive, then there is a reanalysis of habeo and the infinitive so that they are treated as instantiating a single clause rather than a hierarchical relationship between clauses, and then there are further changes which “include fusion across morpheme boundaries, phonological attrition, and semantic reanalysis to a future-tense marker” (2003: 55). In the grammaticalization literature, it is commonly assumed that morphs are sound-meaning pairs—Hopper and Traugott (2003) assume this, as does Bybee (1985), and Traugott (p.c. January 16) currently takes the view that morphs “must be constructions because they come from constructions”. But this position is at odds with theories of morphology that adopt the lexeme rather than the morpheme as the minimal sign, such as A-morphous morphology (Anderson 1992), Paradigm Function Morphology (Stump 2001), Network Morphology (Brown and Hippisley 2012). Although it isn’t a straightforwardly sign-based theory—the network architecture prompts a complex view of the relationship between meanings and forms—Word Grammar belongs in the tradition of lexeme-based morphology (Hudson 2007). However, in WG, this model of morphology cannot be taken for granted as part of inherited UG. It has to arise naturally for each individual out of the process of learning, and for each community it must arise naturally as a solution to the problems of handling a rich communication system. This is because Word Grammar is a theory that treats language as a cognitive network—it can be thought of as a radical network grammar. All the parts of the language system are treated as part of a larger cognitive network, and so semantics, syntax and morphology, for which there are existing WG analyses, are all treated in network terms. The language network, then, is a symbolic or semantic network, and fully compatible with a number of the functionalist and cognitivist assumptions that underscore work in grammaticalization—Hopper and Traugott (2003: xvi) state, “we consider linguistic phenomena to be systematic and partly arbitrary, but so closely tied to cognitive and social factors as not to be self-contained.” However, WG parts company with the grammaticalization tradition in its theorising about morphology. In this, it isn’t unique among theories that are sympathetic to or within the cognitive/functionalist traditions: Construction Morphology (Booij 2010) likewise assumes a lexeme-based morphology. There has been some success in modelling constructional change in Word Grammar (Gisborne 2011) but this work generally looks at changes which take place within a single domain of grammar—typically, the changes explored have been within syntax or within semantics. The challenge of the emergence of the French future tense system is that it involves a change where a fully compositional construction loses compositionality, and where the head word in that compositional construction ultimately becomes reanalysed (through a succession of smaller reanalyses) as the realization of a morphosyntactic category and is not only recategorized, but belongs to an altogether different subsystem of the grammar. The formal nature of this challenge is much the same for WG as it would be for any theory that assumed a lexeme-based morphology, but there are advantages to the WG model which indicate particular solutions. Not least, WG’s theory of morphology is embedded in a larger theory of grammar, which means that there is an architecture that enables us to model diachronic processes that take place through the language system. Another advantage is that it is assumed in WG that Default Inheritance is part of human reasoning: we assign tokens to categories on the basis of best fit, so categorization takes place on the basis of analogical reasoning. But we have a plastic network, which makes it possible to model a degree of variability within an individual speaker, and that applies to categorization. Some examples of categorial change are trivial in that a nondefault instance of a category is reassigned by the speaker to another, or a new, category where there is a better fit with its overall properties. In the case of the emergence of new morphology, however, the change is non-trivial because it is from symbolic anchor (the bit of form that has a meaning) to symbolic reflex (the bit of form that realises the abstract feature which is the real symbolic anchor). This process of creating new morphology involves creating new exemplar nodes in the network Hudson (2010: 80), and assigning them to new categories in a different part of the network. WG has a general solution to problems created by new exemplar nodes, because the theory identifies the tokens of each new utterance as nodes of this kind. The answer to the problem of how to classify (parts of) utterances lie in the mechanisms of spreading activation, which govern information retrieval in networks. Spreading activation also offers a mechanism for modelling change in a network: as speakers we sometimes find ourselves having to make things up on the fly because there isn’t a ready-made solution to our precise communicative needs; there is also a feedback loop because people who hear us may then turn our innovation into a stock resource (see also Bybee 2010). Spreading activation guides the speaker to the best available solution. Finally, spreading activation is global: activation can spread from anywhere at all in your mind and so not only does it not limit a change to a single domain of grammar, but also it offers an explanatory theory of how a change can take an item classified as a word, and reclassify it in a different domain of grammar as a morph. The argument, then, is that it is possible to solve the problem of how categorial change happens across different combinatory systems in the grammar by linking spreading activation to default inheritance within an appropriately formalized and explicitly cognitive theory.
2012-11-28 Lauren Hall-Lew Political Identity and Phonetic Variation Social factors such as speaker age, sex, region, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class have long been shown to be significant variables in quantitative models of linguistic variation. These factors appear to be significant because they are all important aspects of a speaker’s identity (to varying degrees, depending on the context), and linguistic variation constitutes a set of a symbolic resources for indexing aspects of identity. However, they are not the only factors that comprise a person’s identity, and one promising area of sociolinguistic research is uncovering what other identity factors may be important to speakers, and how those factors might further account for variability in patterns of linguistic production. In this talk I focus on some work that shows how political persuasion can be a linguistically significant aspect of personal identity. These project focus on professional politicians, speakers for whom this identity factor is most salient. In the first half of the talk I present data from members of the US House of Representatives (Hall-Lew et al. 2010, 2012b), and in the second half of the talk I discuss recent results from Scottish Members of the UK Parliament (Carr & Bruland 2006; Hall-Lew et al. 2012a). In both cases, the speakers’ political affiliation accounts for their phonetic variation above and beyond the other social factors normally tested for. I conclude with a more general discussion about the challenges in understanding how to think about political persuasion as a new social factor, and how it ultimately interacts in complex ways with all other aspects of speaker identity.
2012-11-14 Rachael Bailes We evolved to read minds Every time we use language, we’re tasked with coordinating with one another in order to converge upon meanings successfully. The extent to which we integrate the knowledge of our conversational partners in order to achieve this is currently debated within psycholinguistics. I consider the mechanisms of common ground comprehension as adaptations to the task of communication. I argue that, in order for a cognitive account of comprehension to bear a functional evolutionary explanation, processing must be fully constrained by common ground. Using this debate as an example, I argue that an adaptationist framework can better differentiate between rival hypotheses in psycholinguistics.
2012-10-31 Matthew Chrisman Ought-to-Do vs. Ought-to-Be Abstract: Ethical theorists often assume that the verb ‘ought’ means roughly ‘has an obligation to’; however, this assumption is belied by the diversity of “flavors” of ought-sentences in English. A natural initial response is that ‘ought’ is multiply ambiguous between senses which have to do with obligations and those that do not. However, this response is incompatible with the standard treatment of ‘ought’ in theoretical semanticists, where it is classified as a member of the family of modal verbs, which are treated uniformly as propositional operators. To many ethical theorists, however, this popular treatment in linguistics seems to elide an important distinction from ethical theory between ought-statements that implicate agency and those that don’t — or, ‘ought-to-do’s and ‘ought-to-be’s. The thought is that ‘ought’ might not be multiply ambiguous, but it at least has two senses, one that connects to something that agents can do, and another that connects only to ways the world might be. In this paper, I pursue some resolution of this tension between semantic theory and ethical theory with respect to the meaning of ‘ought’. To this end, I consider what I believe to be the most linguistically sophisticated argument for the view that the word ‘ought’ is ambiguous between ‘do’ and ‘be’ senses. This argument is instructive but based on a false claim about the syntax of agential ought-sentences – or so I attempt to show. Then I use the failure of this argument to motivate some more general reflections on how the standard treatment of ‘ought’ by theoretical semanticists can be refined in light of the distinction important to ethical theory between agential and non-agential ought-statements.
2012-10-17 Ellen Bard Does language live alone? Because linguistics has been at pains to establish its own area of study, linguists emphasize how different language is from everything else we do and how complicated the processes are that serve it. But people do many things when they interact, some para-linguistic (like using facial expressions to modulate a message or using gesture to illustrate a shape) and some not linguistic at all (like smiling because you are happy or touching your face just because you do). I will report work that colleagues and I have done which shows that a simple mechanism that makes line-dancing fun may support our ability to do complex things with language.
2012-10-03 Antonella Sorace & Caroline Heycock Revisiting the link between language acquisition and language change: new insights from Faroese Language change over generations is typically argued to involve a failure of transmission between generations: the grammar posited by children is different to that used by their parents (using “parents” as shorthand for all speakers of the older generation), and this process repeats – with the difference always being in the same direction, if the result is to be change rather than fluctuation. A major challenge, evidently, is to explain why children should not always converge on the same grammar as their parents. In this talk we’ll look at a syntactic change that has taken place repeatedly in the history of the Germanic languages – the loss of the possibility of placing the finite verb before negation (consider for example that modern English no longer allows “know” to precede “not”, in contrast to examples from Early Modern English such as “They know not what they do”). We’ll show how research that we’ve been doing on syntactic variation in a modern Scandinavian language, Faroese, contributes to debates about how much data, and of what kind, children need to be exposed to in order to acquire a particular system.
2012-09-19 Alice Turk Timing in talking: What is it used for, and how is it controlled? Timing is an integral part of every aspect of speech production: of individual movements of the rib cage, tongue, jaw, lips, velum and laryngeal structures, of their coordinated muscular activity, and of the speech sounds they produce. An understanding of speech production therefore requires an understanding of timing: 1) what it is used for, and 2) how it is controlled. In the first part of this talk, I review our current understanding of what speakers use timing for, and how this understanding was acquired. I propose that one of the main uses of speech timing is to make utterances easier to recognize: it is used to signal individual speech sounds (e.g. did vs. dad) [1], and also to signal, and compensate for, the relative predictability of syllables and words due to their context and frequency of use (e.g. [2], [3], [4], [5]). I propose that this recognition goal is balanced against other goals, such as the need to speak quickly, or in rhythm, to yield surface sound durations in speech. I highlight the important role of prosodic structure for speech timing: Prosodic structure serves as the interface between language and speech ([6],[7],[8]]), and controls acoustic saliency so that it compensates for relative (un)predictability ([3],[4],[5]). In the second half, I focus on two different views of how timing is controlled, i.e. with and without a domain-general timekeeping mechanism. Theories such as DIVA [9], based on VITE ([10]), and many Optimal Control Theory approaches (e.g. [11]) assume a general timekeeping mechanism, whereas Articulatory Phonology/Task Dynamics ([12-15]) suggest mechanisms for achieving surface timing patterns without a domain-general timekeeper. I present timing phenomena that occur in both speech and non-speech, showing how they can be explained within each type of framework. I finish by presenting evidence that may be difficult to explain without a domain-general timekeeping mechanism. This evidence includes greater timing variability for longer duration intervals compared to shorter duration intervals (e.g. phrase-final segments vs. phrase-medial segments, [16]), patterns of differential timing variability for movement onsets vs. target attainment ([17]), and data suggesting a constraint on maximum syllable durations for phonemically short vowels in Northern Finnish [18].
2012-03-14 Jennifer Smith Bidialectalism or dialect obsolescence? Explaining generational change in the Shetland Islands, Scotland A number of studies in recent years have demonstrated dialect levelling in the British Isles (e.g. Williams & Kerswill, 1999:149). In this scenario, supralocal features replace local features, which may finally lead to dialect obsolescence in traditional varieties of English. A case in point is the variety spoken in the Shetland Islands in Northern Scotland. The dialect spoken in the main town of Lerwick is said to be undergoing rapid dialect levelling, with loss of distinctive features in the younger speakers (e.g. van Leyden 2004). Our previous research on change across three generations in this community (Smith & Durham 2011) suggested that dialect obsolescence may be well-advanced in this previously relic dialect community. An analysis of a number of vernacular features gleaned from sociolinguistic interviews revealed that with the younger speakers in the community, half used local forms in their speech while the other half used more standardised variants almost exclusively. We suggested that these results may reflect the pivotal generation in dialect obsolescence, often signalled by extreme linguistic heterogeneity across a group of historically homogeneous speakers (e.g. Dorian 1994). However, there may be an alternative explanation for the use versus non-use of the dialect in the younger speakers. Bidialectalism, where an indigenous variety operates alongside more widespread norms in a community of speakers, is said to have “increased so much that monolingual speakers of non-standard dialects have become the exception” (Cornips and Hulk 2006:355). In Shetland, “knappin”, the use of Scottish Standard English in place of the local variety, is assumed to be increasingly prevalent, leading Melchers (2004a:37) to observe that it is “difficult to find truly monolingual speakers of the traditional dialect today”, even with families who have lived there for generations. Instead, speakers “have access to a choice of two discrete, definable forms of speech: ‘English’ vs. ‘Shetland’” (ibid:37). If this is the case, it has important implications for the interpretation of our findings: our results may not indicate rapid dialect obsolescence per se, but merely reflect differing code choice in the sociolinguistic interview setting. In this paper, we explore this possibility by returning to the community in question to conduct further interviews with the younger speakers. In these recordings, the “dialect speakers” in the original recordings are interviewed by an “outsider” and the “standard speakers” recorded with a dialect-speaking peer in order to manipulate audience design (Bell 1984). We replicate our previous analysis of a number of lexical, phonological and morphosyntactic variables in this additional dataset across a range of linguistic variables, allowing us to test whether the inter-speaker variability we found in the younger speakers is the result of bidialectalism or dialect obsolescence. Finally, we discuss the findings against the backdrop of bidialectalism and the process of language attrition in the British Isles and elsewhere.
2012-02-29 Hannah Rohde What to do when a linguist says she’s expecting (or Discourse-driven expectations in sentence processing) The research I do focuses on the ways that listeners infer meaning across sentences in a discourse: the factors that allow them to follow a discourse, to form representations of the events being described, and to generate expectations about how subsequent utterances will relate to prior linguistic material. In this talk, I’ll discuss the influence of discourse-level expectations on several well-studied phenomena: coreference resolution, syntactic processing, and categorical sound processing. The results show that comprehenders use a variety of cues within a sentence, including lexical semantic properties of the verb, to anticipate what relation is likely to hold between the current sentence and the next as a discourse progresses.
2012-02-15 Cara Featherstone Psycholinguistics and the Psychology of Music Music and language could both be described as a series of sounds. The similarities between the ways in which these sounds combine to form meaningful sequences, and between the ways we process these musical and linguistic sequences are striking. Using the combinatorial properties of music and language, my research aims to uncover general cognitive principles and investigate transfer effects between domains of human cognition. My research has focused on what happens when music and language present something unusual, such as a chord which doesn’t quite fit within a piece, or a word which doesn’t quite fit within a sentence. Incongruous elements generate very similar neurophysiological responses across music and language, and theories have long posited a role for incongruities in evoking emotions in both music and language. In this talk, I present a series of experiments looking at how we process and respond to linguistic and musical incongruities. These experiments include a look at what effects incongruities have on both neurophysiological and behavioural responses to music and language, what emotional labels participants attribute to slightly odd music and language, and what differences and similarities my data demonstrated between musicians and non-musicians in music and language processing.
2012-02-01 John Starr Sects and Texts: Qumran and the Aramaic-speaking world Qumran was an archetypal sectarian community. In some caves about eight miles south of Jericho, texts lay undisturbed for around two thousand years until their discovery in 1947. Of the nine hundred or so texts, most are written in Hebrew at a time when this was reserved for scriptural writings, whereas the everyday language of the Jews was Aramaic. Aramaic is first recorded about one thousand years before Qumran, and forms of it are still spoken today. Its use became widespread during the Persian Empire when it was adopted as the official language, and continued long after Qumran east of the Roman Empire before being largely superseded by Arabic. Just over one hundred of the texts found at Qumran are in Aramaic. Though none are thought to have originated at Qumran, doubtless many were copied there and carefully preserved in the caves. In this lecture I will describe how statistical approaches can help classify the Aramaic texts found at Qumran and what the contours of this classification might tell us about the shape of sectarian identities that made up the Qumran community.
2012-01-18 Graeme Trousdale Linguistics in schools – is the tide turning? For many years, the place of knowledge about language (KAL) in the school curriculum was marginalised. Much of this was a consequence of academic linguists failing to engage with teachers and with policy makers. In more recent years, however, KAL has enjoyed a resurgence of interest, and a more central place in certain parts of the school curriculum. What’s more, extra-curricular – and cross-curricular – interest in linguistics has been developing, particularly in connection with the recent United Kingdom Linguistics Olympiad. In this talk, I discuss some of the ways in which a renewed interest in KAL has been manifest; I also consider what more remains to be done, and ways in which young linguists – those people taking degrees in linguistics and English Language, and recent graduates in those fields – could become involved in the promotion of linguistics in schools, if they wished.
2011-10-19 Peter Milne What can the psychology of reasoning tell us about the semantics of indicative conditionals?
2011-10-05 Sean Roberts What Bilinguals can tell us about Language Evolution My PhD topic is how studies of Bilingualism and Language Evolution can inform each other. Children can learn two languages simultaneously, is there an evolutionary explanation to this? Many models of Language Evolution assume that people only speak one language, what implications does bilingualism have on these theories? I’ll talk about how I managed to avoid this topic for two years, including why it’s difficult to measure the number of languages someone speaks, why ‘languages’ may not be scientific kinds, what bilingualism has to do with magnets and why the number of traffic accidents in a country is a good predictor of linguistic diversity.
2011-09-21 Heinz Giegerich A linguistic analysis of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by woods”
2011-03-23 Bob Ladd Phonology & Phonetics This talk was originally advertised on the LangSoc website as being about “phonology and phonetics” – and it is, sort of. But my first university linguistics class was in 1964, so I’ve had 45 years to figure out what it is about the sounds of language that I find fascinating, and it isn’t the relation between _divine_ and _divinity_ or the correct phonetic transcription of _tem pas’ two_. I’ll talk about some things I’ve worke…d on during my career that in my opinion count as phonology and phonetics but that don’t figure very prominently in most textbooks – intonation and stress; the relation between language and music (how do they sing in a tone language?); and the relevance of linguistics to modern brain-scanning research on speech-related questions. I can’t rule out the possibility of an anecdote or two about The Old Days.
2011-03-21 Martin Kohlberger, Field Linguistics Part II: Workshop
2011-03-16 Bert Remijsen Field Linguistics Part I: Lecture
2011-03-09 April McMahon Language Variation and Language Change: The Same or Different?
2011-03-02 Simon King Synthetic Speech: Beyond Mere Intelligibility Text-to-speech synthesis is the task of automatically converting written language into speech. Some text-to-speech synthesisers are now as intelligible as human speech, which is a remarkable achievement, but the next big challenge is to approach human-like naturalness, which will be even harder. I will describe research which is attempting to imbue speech synthesisers with the properties they need to sound more “natural” – whatever that means. The starting point is personalised speech synthesis, which allows the synthesiser to sound like an individual person without requiring substantial amounts of their recorded speech. I will then describe how we can work from imperfect recordings or achieve personalised speech synthesis across languages, possibly with a couple of diversions to look at whether listeners can identify the same speaker in two different languages and whether vocal attractiveness is correlated with how “average” a voice is. Since the voice is not only our preferred means of communication but also a central part of our identity, losing it can be distressing. Current voice-output communication aids offer a very poor selection of voices, but recent research means that it is becoming possible to provide people who are losing the ability to speak, perhaps due to conditions such as Motor Neurone Disease, with personalised communication aids that sound just like they used to, even if we do not have a recording of their original voice. There will be plenty of examples, including synthetic child speech, personalised synthesis in a language not spoken by the user, and the reconstruction of voices from recordings of disordered speech.
2011-02-23 Antonella Sorace Bilingualism: From Research to Society and Back Again Two languages in one brain: what bilingualism means for the individual and why it matters for society.Different types of bilingual language development – early language learning from childhood, adult second language learning, native language attrition – have traditionally been studied in separate sub-fields of linguistics and psychology. Edinburgh is one of the few places in the world that adopts a ‘big tent’ interdisciplinary approach to bilingualism. I will show that this approach has revealed similarities among bilingual groups due to a complex interplay of linguistic and cognitive factors.I will also describe our effort to make information about research on bilingual language and cognition accessible in the community. This is crucial to encourage early language learning, to facilitate the integration of immigrant children, and to maintain local minority languages. Edinburgh is at the forefront of public outreach with the Bilingualism Matters project, which is actively working to bridge the gap between research and public perception of bilingualism in Scotland and in Europe.
2011-02-21 Christopher Lewin Manx Gaelic Taster Lesson and Presentation
2011-02-16 Caroline Heycock Syntax in the North Atlantic: recent work on the language of the Faroe Islands Faroese is the national language of the Faroe Islands, located in the North Atlantic approximately midway between Shetland and Iceland. Despite having been displaced by Danish as the official language for hundreds of years, Faroese survived and is now the first language of the Faroe Islands. The language is interesting from all sorts of viewpoints — as a symbol of national identity for a society struggling with issues of independence, as a very small language that has survived many threats but has many storms yet to weather, and, from the point of view of internal structure, as the locus of a number of changes in progress. And on top of this, the amazingly resilient and resourceful community live in one of the most stunning and dramatic landscapes in Europe. I plan to talk about how I came to be interested in the Faroese language, give some general background on the language, and explain a bit about the work that we have been doing in collaboration with researchers from the islands. Pictures of puffins will be included.
2011-02-09 John E. Joseph Abstract and Concrete (Language and the Body) Over the last decade, as part of my research on language and identity, language and politics and the history of linguistics, I have been been pursuing an enquiry into the bodily dimensions of language, from ancient times to the present. I am now drawing this together into a unified project, covering both conceptual developments and their (sometimes horrific) applications
2011-02-02 Christine Robinson Dictionaries & Society Dictionaries have a two-way association with society. Given the link between identity and language, in the case of minority languages dictionaries play an important role in ?validating? language by conferring some kind of academic status. This can often have powerful beneficial effects on the self-confidence of speakers and of the community as a whole. Although lexicographers (with some exceptions) do not set out to be presciptive, the way in which people use dictionaries gives them a normative function. They are thereful essential tools in any top-down language planning strategy. Conversely, dictionaries rely on their grass-roots informants, as well as on literary sources, in order to provide the comprehensive lexical description to which they aspire. This makes them eclectic repositories of folklore and material culture, trade practices, beliefs etc., reflecting not only the language of a society but also the society itself. This talk explores some of these interactions and their implications for dictionary making and dictionary use.
2011-01-19 Bart de Boer The Evolution of Speech – a review of the evidence Speech is the most “physical” aspect of language and therefore most likely to leave traces in the fossil record. This talk reviews the fossil evidence for evolution of complex vocal communication, and focuses on how (computer) modeling can help give a functional interpretation of this evidence. Two cases will be discussed in depth: the descent of the larynx and the disappearance of supralaryngeal air sacs.
2010-12-01 Larry Hurtado Biblical Intertextuality in the Gospel Nativity Accounts The two nativity accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were crafted to echo and relate to earlier biblical texts (in what Christians call the “Old Testament”). In this talk, I discuss key examples and explore what the authors likely intended their readers to see in them.
2010-11-17 Jim Hurford The Origins and Evolution of 21st Century Linguistics (45 Years in Linguistics) In 1963, linguistics as an academic subject barely existed in Britain. True, there were one or two professors of linguistics, but it couldn’t be studied at an undergraduate level. In the USA it was more developed, but even in America, the subject was (I would guess) about one tenth of the size it is now, in terms of numbers of teachers and students. The Chomskyan revolution of the mid 1950s had barely reached Britain in the mid 1960s. Linguistic theory existed, but was very much in the shadow of Saussure and Bloomfield. The technology of teaching and research was very different back then, and has changed almost beyond recognition in the past fifteen years. The whole 20th century in linguistics could be fairly called the Saussurean century. And the latter half could be called the Chomskyan half-century. There have been doubting and critical voices throughout, but they have been outnumbered by workers in the dominant paradigm. Mainstream linguistics is now turning to a new perspective on language, not solely dominated by synchronic study of an ideal state of mind of an ideal speaker. The difficulty in reaching this stage stems from both the symbolic nature of language itself and the typical non-scientific training of most academic linguists in the 20th century.
2010-11-03 Patrick Honeybone A Neat Little Phenomenon in Liverpool English In most (or all?) forms of English, speakers can shorten words to produce nicknames like ‘Andy’ from ‘Andrew’, ‘Bobby’ from ‘Robert’, ‘Charlie’ from ‘Charles’, ‘Tony’ from ‘Anthony’ and ‘Wally’ from ‘Walter’. The pattern that people follow when they do this is relatively consistent, but it can only be applied to names and there is some quite unpredictable variation. (Why are two consonants preserved in Andy but only one in Wally? Why is the initial consonant fully preserved in Charlie and Wally, but not in Bobby? Why does Andy preserve the start of Andrew, but Tony the end of Anthony?) Liverpool English has a similar but much more productive and phonologically more consistent phenomenon. I call it ‘Scouse Diddification’. Fritz Spiegl illustrated it with the phrase “Gerra butty from de chippie outside Sevvie”, which has three diddificated forms: ‘butty’ from ‘(bread and) butter’, ‘chippie’ from ‘chipshop’ and ‘Sevvie’ from ‘Sefton (Park)‘, and these nicely illustrate the phonological template that speakers use to create the diddificated forms. The template is precise and consistent, and can be applied to nouns at will. In this talk I describe the phonology of Scouse Diddification and consider what kinds of data and methodologies can be used to investigate it.
2010-10-20 Jeffrey Ketland Cognizing a Language This is a talk about the foundations of theoretical linguistics. What is a language? If L is the language you speak today, and L* yesterday, then are they the same? If not, why? More generally, when are languages identical? What are their individuation conditions? Is there really such a thing as English? Or really just a large number of idiolects approximating each other? What is the modal status of linguistic facts? Suppose “gavagai” denotes in L the set of rabbits. Is that semantic fact contingent? Empirical? Necessary? How is a speaker’s mind related to the language the speaker speaks? Say that the mind ‘cognizes’ the language L it speaks. How might be analyse this relation? It is akin to the relation between a physical calculator and the program it runs? Is it like the function a program computes? Consider a function f whose domain is some physical things (say stones) and suppose f assigns to each stone a number. Or consider a set X of physical things. Such a function or set is called a mixed mathematical object; such entities lie at t he heart of the applicability of mathematics. Obviously this includes physics, and the other hard sciences. It also includes linguistics. Linguistics is applied mathematics. That is the set-up. I will argue for the following claims: 1. Languages are very complicated mixed mathematical objects. Syntax deals with the structure of finite sequences of symbol types (abstract entities which have token instantiations). Semantics deals with the assignment of referents and intensions to these finite sequences. And pragmatics deals with the assignment of abstract assertability and other rules to these finite sequences. 2. Languages have their syntactic, semantic and pragmatic properties essentially (i.e., syntactic, semantic, pragmatic facts about L are modally necessary). 3. The ‘cognizing’ relation is, in some way, like the relation between a physical system set up to compute certain functions. This relation can be specified in terms of counterfactual properties of the physical system itself. 4. If I have time, I may try to mention questions about collective linguistic normativity—i.e., suppose your idiolect is L but everyone else’s is (a good approximation to) L*. Then ought you speak L* instead? There is no special background reading required. These are topics that have arisen in a rather inchoate way in philosophy of language and semantics for 50 years, and I will attempt to bring them together.
2010-10-06 Richard Littauer ConLangs: Na’vi, Dothraki and More… Constructed, or ‘made up’, languages have been used to attempt political unity (Esperanto), uncover the languages of the past (Indo European) or give life to fictional races and peoples (Tolkien’s Sindarin & Quenya or Avatar’s Na’vi). Richard will discuss the range of conlangs in existence and focus on his work with some languages that are used in fiction; he will also explain how constructing a new language can help the creator understand the fundamental building blocks and functions of language. Richard has worked extensively on the Na’vi language created by Paul R. Frommer (USC) for James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) (you could even say he is fluent in it!). He administrates the succesful website,, and has written an online dictionary of Na’vi that has been translated in to over 10 languages. Most recently, he has been developing a sister site to accompany the eponymous language of the Dothraki from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. The novels, as well as the language, are currently being developed for the screen. In August Richard took up the challenge of constructing a fully working language (called Llárriésh or Llama) in one month, from its basic phonology to translated passages; he documented this creative process as a blog.