New paper in Glossa!

Wittenberg, E., Momma, S., & Kaiser, E. (2021). Demonstratives as bundlers of conceptual structure. Glossa: A Journal of General Linguistics6(1), 33. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.917

Abstract: Pronoun resolution has long been central to psycholinguistics, but research has mostly focused on personal pronouns (“he”/“she”). However, much of linguistic reference is to events and objects, in English often using demonstrative pronouns, like “that”, and the non-personal pronoun “it”, respectively. Very little is known about potential form-specific preferences of non-personal and demonstrative pronouns and the cognitive mechanisms involved in reference using demonstratives. We present a novel analysis arguing that the bare demonstrative “that” serves a different function by bundling, and making linguistically accessible, complex conceptual structures, while the non-personal pronoun “it” has a form-specific preference to refer to noun phrases mentioned in the previous discourse. In two English self-paced reading studies, each replicated once with slight variations, we show that readers are reading the demonstrative slower throughout, independently of frequency or complexity of the referent, as a reflection of differences in processing demonstratives vs. pronouns. These findings contribute to two distinct but connected research areas: First, they are compatible with an emergent experimental literature showing that pronominal reference to events is preferably done with demonstratives. Second, our model of demonstratives as conceptual bundlers provides a unified framework for future research on demonstratives as operators on the interface between language and broader cognition.

New paper: Hindi light verbs!

Complex predicates like the light verb constructions “take a look” or “give a call” aren’t rare in English, but they’re also not the most common way to form a predicate either — usually, in English we just use simple verbs to talk about an action, like “look” or “call”; there is a simple-verb preference in English.

Many other languages, like Hindi, have the opposite preference: There, complex predicates are the preferred way to encode an action. In a new paper coming out in the Journal of South Asian Linguistics, Ashwini Vaidya and Eva Wittenberg show in a series of four experiments that, like with so many things in life, practice makes perfect: Processing costs of light verb constructions that we had found in English and German are undetectable in Hindi.

What does that mean for our linguistic theory-building? Take a look!

Upcoming talks!

Eva will be giving a number of talks in the next few months, and thanks to remote everything, they’re all online!

If you’re interested in joining, please email Eva for access information!

LCL at NACCL!

Catherine gave a talk at the 32nd North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-32) about her findings on verbal reduplication in Mandarin Chinese!

Arnett, C. & Wittenberg, E. (2020). Conceptual effects of verbal reduplication in Mandarin Chinese.

Abstract. Full or partial reduplication of words has long been known to induce non-truth-conditional effects on how people conceptualize a referent (e.g., Ghomeshi et al., 2004; Inkelas and Zoll, 2005), but the conditions and mechanisms of this effect are in some cases not very well understood. In this paper, we explore how verbal reduplication affects the way Mandarin speakers conceptualize events. Reduplication is frequent in Chinese, and has traditionally been analyzed as inducing a diminishing, ‘fast’ meaning: According to Melloni and Basciano (2018) and Arcodia et al. (2015), walk-walk around the pond would denote a faster and shorter event than walk around the pond. However, the meaning of reduplication may also vary across Chinese dialects (Fu and Hu, 2012; Arcodia et al., 2014), and potentially, interpretation is influenced by the emotive content of the verb (Arcodia et al., 2015). This last factor is connected to semantic specificity – frequent, basic-level words may pattern differently from expressions denoting a more complex semantic content (Rice and Bode, 1993). This work investigates the empirical validity of these claims, and proposes tentative routes towards explanations of the data pattern: 1) Dialectal differences, 2) emotive content of the events themselves, and 3) semantic specificity.

LCL at SAFAL-1 and AMLaP!

The lab has four presentations this week, one at the First South Asian Forum on the Acquisition and Processing of Language (SAFAL), and three at AMLaP!

New paper in “Cognition”!

We’re so excited: Our paper on those structures that we wonder why English speakers produce them, a.k.a. resumptive pronouns, by alumnus extraordinaire Adam Morgan, Titus von der Malsburg, Victor Ferreira, and Eva Wittenberg, has been accepted by Cognition!

Featuring a creative mix of methods (among others, the first eye-tracking data collected in this lab), we hammer home the point that when we study comprehension, it’s a good idea to also study interpretation!

A preprint can be found here, and here’s the abstract:

Language comprehension and production are generally assumed to use the same representations, but resumption poses a problem for this view. This structure is regularly produced, but judged highly unacceptable. Production-based solutions to this paradox explain resumption in terms of processing pressures, whereas the Facilitation Hypothesis suggests resumption is produced to help listeners comprehend. Previous research purported to support the Facilitation Hypothesis did not test its keystone prediction: that resumption improves accuracy of interpretation. Here, we test this prediction directly, controlling for factors that previous work did not. Results show that resumption in fact hinders comprehension in the same sentences that native speakers produced, a finding which replicated across four high-powered experiments with varying paradigms: sentence-picture matching (N= 300), self-paced reading (N= 96), visual world eye-tracking (N= 96), and multiple-choice comprehension question (N= 150).These findings are consistent with production-based accounts, indicating that comprehension and production may indeed share representations, although our findings point toward a limit on the degree of overlap. Methodologically speaking, the findings highlight the importance of measuring interpretation when studying comprehension.

Two new grants for the lab!

We just received an Innovation Grant for Inclusive Research Excellence, to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic influences language comprehension throughout society, in an exciting ongoing project with our fabulous colleagues Rachel Ostrand, Dan Kleinman, and Adam Morgan!

We also received a Yankelovich Center Book Manuscript/Grant Proposal Improvement Grant to, well, improve a grant that’s to be submitted soon. Wish us luck!

LCL @ CogSci 2020

The lab will virtually go to CogSci, presenting

Sheer Time Spent Expecting or Maintaining a Representation Facilitates Subsequent Retrieval during Sentence Processing

by Hossein Karimi, Michele Diaz & Eva Wittenberg.

Abstract: Previous research has shown that modified noun phrases (henceforth NPs) are subsequently retrieved faster than non-modified NPs. This effect is often called the “semantic complexity effect”. However, little is known about its mechanisms and underlying factors. In this study, we tested whether this effect is truly caused by the semantic information added by the modification, or whether it can be explained by the sheer amount of time that the processor spends expecting or maintaining an NP in the encoding phase. The results showed that time spent expecting or maintaining an NP can explain the effect over and above semantic and/or syntactic complexity. Our results challenge the current memory-based mechanisms for the modification effect such as the “distinctiveness” and “head-reactivation” accounts, and offer new and valuable insight into the memory processes during sentence comprehension.