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.



Tuesday, 26 February, 4.00-5 pm: Qian Li


Consecutive Neutral Tone in Tianjin Mandarin


What is Neutral Tone?

In Mandarin Chinese, pitch changes over a syllable usually signal lexical meanings. We call them lexical tones. The so-called NEUTRAL TONE SYLLABLES are those that do not surface with any of the lexical tones. These syllables always occur in the prosodically weak positions; they are usually produced with acoustic reductions and short duration. What is of interest to me is that their f0 contours exhibit so much variability.


Why consecutive?

Researchers have argued that because of the variable f0 realization of the neutral tone, different tonal targets are underlying those realizations. For example, in Tianjin Mandarin, structures like “Tone X + Neutral Tone + Tone 1” always have a rising neutral tone f0. This led to the conclusion that the neutral tone before T1 has a special rising tonal target; and in another context they would posit a different target. This seems true, but please note here we only have ONE neutral tone! However, if we have more neutral tone syllables, such as three neutral tones as we used in our experiment, this conclusion can no longer be correct. In this study, with well-controlled laboratory speech, we examined the f0 realization of three consecutive neutral tone syllables before Tone 1. We show that the rising neutral tone realization cannot be treated as a special rising target; rather, it is due to the general raising effect brought by the following Tone 1.



Tuesday, 29 January, 3.00-5 pm: Sima Zolfaghari

Bakhtiaris: Their language and culture

The Bakhtiaris are among the most ancient inhabitants of Iran and for centuries they have lived in the same region of approximately 75,000 km² in the south-western part of the country, on both sides of the Zagros mountain range. At present, the majority of Bakhtiaris live in towns and villages. A number of Bakhtiaris still follow the nomadic life style of their ancestors, migrating twice a year across the Zagros Mountains in search of fresh pastures for their herds of sheep and goats and also to escape the unbearable heat and cold of their summer and winter campsites, respectively.

In this talk, I will present some general aspects of the Bakhtiari language and culture and how these two have been interwoven through ages and are reflected into their vocabulary, proverbs and different genres of their songs and literature.

In addition, to give you a glimpse of their world, a documentary film, made by a German documentary filmmaker for ARTE, will be shown afterwards. I collaborated on this project as an interpreter and anthropological consultant.


Kinder der Glücklichen. Nomaden im Iran

Documentary (Germany, 2011) of Dorothe Dörholt about the yearly travel of the Bachtiari nomads from the southwest of Iran.


Tuesday, 4 December, 4.00-5 pm: Jaap Kamphuis

Verbal aspect in Old Church Slavonic

Venue: Van Eyckhof 2, room 3

The verbal systems of modern Slavic languages are characterized by an important dichotomy between perfective and imperfective verbs, which is encoded morphologically. To illustrate the functions of perfective and imperfective verbs, often Russian examples are used. However, in the past decades it has becomes more and more clear that there is large variation between the various modern Slavic languages when it comes to the functions of verbal aspect.

Old Church Slavonic, as the oldest attested Slavic language, attested in a period only a few centuries after the break-up of Proto-Slavic, can give us an idea of the system this variation comes from, and thus of the direction in which the various modern Slavic languages have developed this system.

The first question that needs to be answered is whether there is a verbal aspect system similar to the modern aspect systems in Old Church Slavonic, and if so, what its functions are. And only when these questions are answered, can the bigger questions be asked: do we find clues in Old Church Slavonic as to the source of verbal aspect in Slavic and does the stage of development of the Old Church Slavonic aspect system give us any information as to where the variation in modern Slavic comes from?

The first results of the research show that in Old Church Slavonic there is indeed a system similar to the modern Slavic languages.  One striking difference is that the link between various contexts or functions and aspect is not as strong as in the modern Slavic languages. Furthermore, a considerable part of the verbal system does not seem to partake in the aspect opposition, which is deviating from the general image that aspect in Slavic is a dichotomy which encompasses the entire system.

In my talk I will briefly introduce Slavic verbal aspect and the results of comparative aspect research in modern Slavic languages. Then I move on to verbal aspect in Old Church Slavonic and finally I will touch upon questions of the origin of verbal aspect in Slavic and the possible consequences of my findings in Old Church Slavonic for the research of verbal aspect in modern Slavic languages.

Tuesday, 30 October, 4.00-5 pm: Marieke Meelen

From [Ab]guidaur to App: where computational and historical linguistics come together

Venue: Van Eyckhof 2, room 1

Some 1300 years ago, a Welsh monk decided to write down complex calculations about the exact dates for Easter in his mother tongue. This so-called Computus became one of the oldest surviving fragments in the history of the Welsh language. In the course of history, the word order in the Welsh language seems to have changed from verb-initial in the Computus to verb-second in Middle Welsh tales, eventually evolving to the Modern Welsh VSO order. In this talk I will return to the very beginning of that language exploring how recent developments in computational linguistics can give more insight into both the oldest fragments and the latest changes in the Welsh linguistic corpus.