New paper in Frontiers in Psychology!

Eva Wittenberg, Manizeh Khan & Jesse Snedeker just had an article accepted in Frontiers in Psychology:

Investigating thematic roles through implicit learning: Evidence from light verb constructions

The syntactic structure of a sentence is usually a strong predictor of its meaning: Each argument noun phrase (i.e., Subject and Object) should map onto exactly one thematic role (i.e., Agent and Patient, respectively). Some constructions, however, are exceptions to this pattern. This paper investigates how the syntactic structure of an utterance contributes to its construal, using ditransitive English light verb constructions, such as “Nils gave a hug to his brother”, as an example of such mismatches: Hugging is a two-role event, but the ditransitive syntactic structure suggests a three-role event. Data from an eye-tracking experiment and behavioral categorization data reveal that listeners learn to categorize sentences according to the number of thematic roles they convey, independent of their syntax. Light verb constructions, however, seem to form a category of their own, in which the syntactic structure leads listeners down an initial incorrect assignment of thematic roles, from which they only partly recover. These results suggest an automatic influence of syntactic argument structure on semantic interpretation and event construal, even in highly frequent constructions.

Read the paper here (Open Access)!

LCL @ AMLaP 2017!

The Language Comprehension Lab will have a talk at AMLaP 2017 in Lancaster, UK:

Complexity matters only when it matters: Pronominal object and event reference rapidly access different aspects of situation models.
Talk by Eva Wittenberg, Shota Momma, Elsi Kaiser, & Jeremy Skipper.

Jayden Ziegler visiting the lab, and giving a talk at CRL!

Jayden Ziegler, one of our lab’s collaborators, is visiting us and giving a CRL talk on 5/9!

CRL Happy Half Hour @ 3:30 in CSB 215
CRL Talk @ 4:00 in CSB 280

Investigating semantic structure with structural priming

Structural priming, or the tendency to repeat aspects of sentence structure across utterances, provides strong evidence for the existence of abstract structural representations in language (Bock, 1986; for reviews, see, e.g., Branigan & Pickering, 2016; Pickering & Ferreira, 2008). Despite a general consensus that structural priming is primarily a syntactic phenomenon (Bock, 1989; Bock & Loebell, 1990; Chang et al., 2006; Branigan & Pickering, 2016; Branigan et al., 1995), I’ll present (further) evidence that semantic structure can be isolated and primed independently of syntax. Then, I’ll leverage structural priming as a tool to ask specific questions about the nature of these semantic representations—specifically, to what degree do different classes of verbs share or not share the same semantic core? And what, if anything, can this tell us about the mental representation of linguistic meaning? For this, I’ll use datives and locatives as a particularly compelling test case (think: Localist Hypothesis; Jackendoff, 1983). I’ll conclude with lessons learned and future directions.

LCL @ CUNY 2017!

Our lab will be represented at CUNY with two posters:

Ziegler, J., Snedeker, J. & Wittenberg, E. 2017. Different paths from structure to event construal in idiomatic, semi-idiomatic, and fully transparent expression.

Morgan, A., von der Malsburg, T., Ferreira, V. S. & Wittenberg, E. 2017. This is the structure that we wonder why anyone produces it: Resumptive pronouns in English help production but hinder comprehension.

New paper in Journal of Memory and Language!

Eva Wittenberg and Roger Levy had their paper If you want a quick kiss, make it count: How choice of syntactic construction affects event construal accepted in the Journal of Memory and Language. Here is the abstract: 

When we hear an event description, our mental construal is not only based on lexical items, but also on the message’s syntactic structure. This has been well-studied in the domains of causation, event participants, and object conceptualization. Less studied are the construals of temporality and numerosity as a function of syntax. We present a theory of how syntax affects the construal of event similarity and duration in a way that is systematically predictable from the interaction of mass/count syntax and verb semantics, and test these predictions in six studies. Punctive events in count syntax (give a kiss) and durative events in mass syntax (give advice) are construed as taking less time than in transitive frame (kiss and advise). Durative verbs in count syntax (give a talk), however, result in a semantic shift, orthogonal to duration estimates. These results demonstrate how syntactic and semantic structure together systematically affect event construal.<\font>

Please find the authors’ PDF on our Publications site.

International Collaboration with University College London!

Jeremy Skipper (University College London) and Eva Wittenberg received a small grant from the Global Engagement Fund at UCL to deepen their collaboration on how spatial and temporal activation patterns in the brain can predict pronoun resolution. The grant will serve as seed funding for mutual visits in order to plan a behavioral pilot study, and a series of neuroimaging studies.

Looking for Research Assistants!

How do speakers get from thought to language? How do comprehenders get from form to meaning? What are the biological underpinnings of this magical process? How did evolution get us here? What is the best way to test our hypotheses on language and cognition?

Those are the questions that the Language Comprehension Lab at UCSD seeks to answer. We are a new lab, and we are looking for curious, interested, quick-thinking and independent students to assist in all tasks relevant to running a lab: designing, programming and running experimental studies; literature searches, scheduling and organizing; asking questions and thinking about ways of answering them. If you join us, you will be an integral part of our lab-building process. Some of the tasks will be boring, some of them will be exciting, but you will definitely learn something.

To apply, please visit our Join our Lab! page and fill out the application form.


Where in your brain would you find “Kirschkernweitspuckwettbewerb”?

Eva Wittenberg has written a short chapter about “unasked questions”, which will appear in an edited volume that is assembling a collection of questions that are simply unasked in science — unasked, because the answer seems obvious, because they’re taboo, or because, if we ask them, we are threatening the warm fuzzy feeling that knowing something for sure can create. If you speak German, you might enjoy it!

LCL goes Europe!

This summer, our lab will have several talks and posters in Tromsø, Norway, at AMLaP 2016 in Bilbao, and at Sinn und Bedeutung in Edinburgh:

  • Talking about events: Who dunnit, and for how long? Talk, Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics, University of Tromsø.
    Eva Wittenberg 
  • You can lower my standards with your syntax: Computing adjectival scalar thresholds. Colloquium talk, Center for Advanced Study in Theoretical Linguistics, University of Tromsø.
    Eva Wittenberg 
  • The Roles Of Presupposition Accommodation And Syntax In Computing Adjectival Scalar Thresholds. Poster at Sinn & Bedeutung.
    Eva Wittenberg, David Barner & Roger Levy
  • The Roles Of Presupposition Accommodation And Syntax In Computing Adjectival Scalar Thresholds. Talk at AMLaP.

    Eva Wittenberg, David Barner & Roger Levy

  • What is ‘it’? Disambiguating pronominal object vs. event reference. Poster at AMLaP.
    Eva Wittenberg & Victor Ferreira

  • Another coffee. Although, maybe not: Disambiguating clausal connectors.
    Poster at AMLaP.
    Eva Wittenberg & Ulrike Freywald

  • Resumptive pronouns hinder sentence comprehension in English.
    Poster at AMLaP.
    Adam Morgan, Titus von der Malsburg, Victor Ferreira & Eva Wittenberg

  • Language-specific and language-independent serialisation patterns for framesetters, topics, and predicates.
    Poster at AMLaP.
    Heike Wiese, Eva Wittenberg & Mehmet Öncü