Yifei Bi, Tuesday 14 October, 4.00-5 pm

The interaction between word and sentence prosody: a case study of Dalian Mandarin

Dalian, a seaside city locates at the northeast of China, is only 938km away from the capital, Beijing. Dalian Mandarin belongs to Jiao-liao dialect, which is reported has an interesting but unclear tonal near-merged phenomenon in the literature. Take the ambiguous lexical prosody and the undeveloped natural-spoken sentential prosody in this dialect into consideration; studies aim to have a clear idea of the two levels of prosody, also investigate the interaction between them. I am now focusing on the part of lexical level prosody; especially pay attention to the merged or near-merged tonal phenomenon from various aspects, such as generations, word frequency and so on as first step.

Kate Bellamy, Tuesday 30 September, 4.00-5 pm

The lexicon of metallurgy: A means for investigating the linguistic past of Purépecha

Purépecha, spoken by around 110,000 people in Michoacán, West Mexico, has long been considered a language isolate. Of the unsuccessful attempts to find its linguistic relatives, Swadesh’s proposal linking Purépecha to Quechua is perhaps the most suggestive since it lends support to the pre-Columbian relations between cultures of West Mexico and South America found in the archaeological record. The most convincing of these connections is metallurgy, a technology that was transferred from the Pacific coast of South America (Ecuador) to West Mexico from 600AD onwards. Through a comparative study of the lexical domain of metallurgy, its materials, processes and tools, I am testing the hypothesis that there was contact, possibly even leading to genetic (linguistic) relatedness, between the peoples and languages of these two regions, with a focus on Purépecha.

Morana Lukac, Tuesday 28 January, 4.00-5 pm

Linguistic attitudes in the media

In the absence of an English Academy in the UK, a linguistic complaint tradition arose which has served an important function in preserving the standard language ideology. My research, which is embedded in the Bridging the Unbridgeable project on prescriptivism in the English language, deals with linguistic complaints made by language pedants who regularly try to label certain usage features as ‘bad’ or ‘incorrect’, such as double negation, the split infinitive, dangling participles, etc. The argumentation strategies and the diachronic changes in the complaint tradition are identified in a specialized corpus of letters to the editor. In this presentation I describe the process of data collection and annotation, the results I obtained so far and the challenges I encountered in dealing with large-scale corpora.

Amanda Post da Silveira, Thursday 05 December, 4.00-5 pm

Maltese speakers of English – bilingualism or L2? An eye-tracking experiment testing the allophonic /t/ – /Ө/ representation of “th” in Maltese English

This study was done in collaboration with Prof. Holger Mitterer (Malta University) as result of my training in eye-tracking techniques applied to the investigation of (second) language acquisition and processing. English is one of the official languages in Malta for about 150 years and the natives from the island are understood to be Maltese-English bilinguals. However, some orthographic and phonological processes in Maltese English distinguish it from standard British English. Our main question is: is British English an L2 or a dialect for Maltese speakers? In order to start a range of investigations on this matter, we selected a clear grapheme-to-phoneme transfer in Maltese English: the realization of orthographic “th”, which seems to be allophonic between /t/ and / Ө/. Based on evidence from our eye-tracking – visual world paradigm – experiment and a production experiment, we observed that most Maltese English speakers (Maltese-English bilinguals) do not produce or perceive the distinction /t/ and /Ө/, independently of their English proficiency. These results add evidence to characterize the English variety spoken in Malta as a distinct English dialect.

Nanda Ernanda, Tuesday 26 November, 4.00-5 pm

The Phrasal Alternation in the Pondok Tinggi Dialect of Kerinci across two Generations

 The Kerinci “language”, spoken in Jambi province of Sumatra, Indonesia, is a complex of many dialects. Although obviously belonging to the Malay subgroup, Kerinci dialects differ markedly from other Malay varieties. The most salient and typical features of Kerinci is the morphological phenomenon, termed phrasal alternation, whereby nearly all lexical roots have two distinct forms differing in the rhyme of their final syllable.

This study examines the use of phrasal alternation across generations in one variety of Kerinci, namely the vernacular of the village of Pondok Tinggi (PT). Two age groups of the native speakers of PT participated in this study. The results show that the way the older speakers speak differs from that of the younger speakers. The language is indeed changing.

Bora Lushaj, Thursday 19 September, 4.00-5 pm

A comparison of contact-induced phonological changes in two Arbëresh varieties

The Arbëresh varieties spoken in Greci (Campania) and San Marzano (Salento) have developed similar phonological changes due to contact with two different Italo-Romance dialects. Unlike other Arbëresh villages, these varieties have introduced consonant lengthening (or gemination) in the Arbëresh lexicon. Other structural sound changes parallel to the Romance varieties are also evident. In this talk I present such contact-outcomes and compare similarities and differences in their realisation. I will also briefly present the history of the villages. Speculation as to the kind of contact scenarios we can postulate based on linguistic and extra-linguistic data for each individual communities will follow.

Jessie Nixon, Thursday 22 August, 4.00-5 pm

Statistical noise influences online processing of speech sounds: eye movement evidence from Cantonese VOT perception

How does the human brain process highly variable, non-discrete acoustic information in such a way as to comprehend an incoming signal? In particular, how does the degree of variation affect perceptual certainty? In a ‘visual world’ eyetracking study, native Cantonese listeners saw pictures of words beginning with unaspirated /b/ (e.g. 布bou3 ‘cloth’) or aspirated /p/ stops (e.g. 铺 pou3 ‘shop’). All participants heard a bimodal distribution of auditory stimuli. Distribution peaks corresponded to prototypical voice onset times for each of the aspirated and unaspirated picture names. Participants heard either a Wide (high-variation) or a Narrow (low-variation) distribution of auditory stimuli.

Data were analysed using an advanced new technique, Generalised Additive Modelling (GAM). Results showed increased looks to target between 200-400ms after stimulus presentation in the Wide condition, compared to the narrow condition. This was modulated by distance from category boundaries, as well as distance from category means. We are still working on interpretation, but this suggests that increased variation in the input increases processing cost, even for prototypical pronunciations.

Tuesday, 4 June, 4.00-5 pm: Laura Migliori and Giuseppe Torcolacci

Splitting and clustering grammatical information: the case of auxiliary selection in southern Italian dialects

Southern Italian dialects (SIDs) show a particular mechanism of selection of perfective auxiliaries in the active voice (cfr. D’Alessandro & Roberts (2010), Giammarco (1973), Manzini & Savoia (2005) a.o.). In these dialects, BE and HAVE auxiliaries are not selected according to the verbal class of the participle they combine with (cfr. Italian ho mangiato (HAVE.1sg eaten, I have eaten) versus sono andato (AM.1sg gone, I have gone)), but strictly conditioned by the person feature expressed on the sentential subject.

(1) a.       sɔ/si/ʃemə/ʃetə ‘viʃtə/dər’mi:tə/ve’nutə                            ‘viʃtə/dər’mi:tə/ve’nutə
                BE.1sg/BE.2sg/BE.1pl/BE.2pl seen/slept/come          seen/slept/come
               ‘I/you/we have seen/slept/come’
b.            a                                                                                             ‘viʃtə/dər’mi:tə/ve’nutə
                HAVE.3                                                                                  seen/slept/come
               ‘he/she/it has seen/slept/come

Southern Marchigiano [Manzini & Savoia, 2005]

The example in (1) indicates that BE is selected only in the presence of a subject being of 1st and 2nd sg/pl. Conversely, in the case of a 3rd person subject, the auxiliary selected is HAVE. The goal of the talk is twofold: in the first place, the diachronic development of the phenomenon of auxiliary selection in SIDs will be taken into consideration. In this part, a comparison between the system of auxiliation of SIDs and other Romance languages, both from a diachronic and in synchronic perspective, will be presented. The last part will concentrate on the typology of auxiliary selection in SIDs. Namely, it will be shown that the pattern shown in (1) is not the only one found in these dialects, but a very rich microvariation affecting BE/HAVE alternation in the present perfect is at hand in the spoken varieties nowadays.

Wednesday, 24 April, 4.00-5 pm: Jermy Balukh

Personal Pronouns of Dhao in Eastern Indonesia

Dhao is an Austronesian language spoken by about 3000 people mainly on Ndao Island, Eastern Indonesia. Dhao has four sets of personal pronouns. Two sets are morphologically independent and the other two are bound which requires hosts. The first set features bisyllabics which are considered free pronouns and the second set features monosyllabics which are considered clitics. The bound pronouns are prefixes which are attached to vowel-initial verbs and suffixes. The latter can only be attached to the verb la- ‘go’ to indicate agreement. The clitics are phonologically not identical to the free pronouns. This shows that the clitics are not the reduced forms of the free pronouns. The pronominal affixes are identical to the clitics, rather than to the free pronouns. For the syntactic distribution, not all the clitics can substitute the full NP as arguments of verbs. For example, nga ‘1pl-ex’ never appears as independent argument, na ‘3sg’ is preferably used in subject position and its counterpart ne ‘3sg’ in object position. Na ‘3sg’ is used as object only in combination with a complement. As Dhao lacks other types of pronouns, personal pronouns are also used as the possessor in possessive construction. The free pronouns but also the clitics appear immediately after the possessum, functioning as possessors. In addition, particular clitics, like ku ‘1sg’ are used for honorific expressions and emphasis, while the pronominal suffix –si ‘3pl’ is copied to express plurality.

Wednesday, 27 March, 4.00-5 pm: Barend Beekhuizen


What can we learn from bound learners?

In this talk, I discuss an often neglected perspective on understanding/modeling the acquisition of syntax, namely the limited capacities of the infant acquiring a language. Modern computational cognitive science typically treats learners as ‘Laplacean demons’, that is: supercalculators who can process enormous hypothesis spaces and keep track of innumerable statistics.

This ideal learner has no cognitive limitations: it has an infinite capacity for searching, storing and calculating. However, for different domains of cognitive science, including language, it has been shown that understanding the nature of cognitive limitations (e.g. working memory and hypothesis generation mechanisms) and acknowledging their presence allows us to model observed behavior better and thus furthers our understanding of the underlying mechanisms. I present an extension of this perspective to the acquisition of syntax and discuss the possible sources of cognitive limitations.