Special Guest: Hugh Rabagliati (Edinburgh)

The Language Comprehension Lab is thrilled to announce a very special guest: Hugh Rabagliati (Edinburgh) will talk at our lab meeting from 2:15-3pm on March 6th (AP&M 4452). 


All are welcome!

Learning dimensions of meaning
Words such as ‘but’ carry content that does not fit neatly into the traditional distinction between expressed and implicated meanings. This content is often abstract, it’s meta-linguistic, and it’s hard to describe: indeed, there’s still a messy debate about what sort of dimension of meaning ‘but’ actually carries. Yet anecdotally at least, learning to use these words does not appear to present much of a challenge for children: At least by the age of three, they not only say the word ‘but’ frequently, they use it appropriately, too. Here, however, I’ll present data that this early competence at production masks a striking difficulty at interpreting its meaning during comprehension. Experiments with both preschoolers and statistical language models suggest that these failures to comprehend ‘but’ arise from a difficulty inferring the concrete implications of a Question Under Discussion. Children’s struggles with ‘but’ may thus be part of a broader difficulty generating alternatives, with implications for our understanding of children’s semantic and pragmatic interpretation.

See you at CUNY2020!

The lab will present two posters at the CUNY Sentence Processing Conference:

  • Wampler, Joshua & Wittenberg, Eva: Conceptual parallels between event and object reference in English: A new paradigm shows that demonstratives refer to more complex events
  • Karimi, Hossein, Diaz, Michele, & Wittenberg, Eva: Explaining away the ease of retrieving “alleged Venezuelan communists”: Attention and time spent, not semantic complexity alone, predict reading times

See you in Amherst in March!

New: Amsterdam Colloquium Proceedings paper

Our paper “Fixing de Morgan’s law in counterfactual antecedents” is now available as part of the Proceedings of the 22nd Amsterdam Colloquium here!

Abstract:

Classical semantics for counterfactuals are based on a notion of comparative similarity.
These semantics are intensional, hence they predict that logically equivalent clauses can
be substituted in counterfactuals salva veritate. A recent truth-value judgment study by
Ciardelli, Zhang, and Champollion ([6]; CZC) appears to challenge both the idea that comparative similarity plays a role in counterfactual semantics and the prediction that logical
equivalents are substitutable. CZC account for their data via an inquisitive semantics for
disjunction and a semantics for counterfactuals that does not exploit the standard similarity algorithm. We report on a study consisting of two experiments that start from CZC’s
general idea, but use a simpler scenario, manipulate negation more systematically, and add
an extra task based on the selection of pictures. Our results replicate the differences found
by CZC, but they also suggest that the effect is linked to the presence of overt negation
rather than disjunction. We conclude that (i) inquisitive disjunction is neither necessary
nor sufficient to account for the problem in full generality, and (ii) the evidence does not
encourage rejecting a similarity semantics.

New paper in Language & Linguistics Compass!

Angela He (Chinese University of Hong Kong) and Eva have a new paper on the acquisition of event nominals and light verb constructions in Language & Linguistics Compass:


https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/lnc3.12363

Abstract. In language acquisition, children assume that syntax and semantics reliably map onto each other, and they use these mappings to guide their inferences about novel word meanings: For instance, at the lexical level, nouns should name objects and verbs name events, and at the clausal level, syntactic arguments should match semantic roles. This review focuses on two cases where canonical mappings are broken—first, nouns that name event concepts (e.g., “a nap”) and second, light verb constructions that do not neatly map syntactic arguments onto semantic roles (e.g., “give a kiss”). We discuss the challenges involved in their acquisition, review evidence that suggests a close connection between them, and highlight outstanding questions.

LCL @ CAMP!

Two LCL grad students will present their work at the upcoming California Meeting on Psycholinguistics (CAMP) at UC Santa Cruz:

  • Catherine Arnett & Eva Wittenberg: Conceptual effects of Verbal Reduplication in Mandarin Chinese (poster on Saturday, October 26)
  • Joshua Wampler & Eva Wittenberg: Doing thus and so: Event referential expressions and referent complexity (talk on Sunday, October 27)

Congratulations, Catherine and Josh!

LCL @ XPRAG 2019

We will be presenting a poster on the comprehension of counterfactuals at XPRAG 2019 in Edinburgh! Check out the abstract here:

Fixing De Morgan Laws in Counterfactual Antecedents, by Jacopo Romoli, Paolo Santorio, and Eva Wittenberg

See you in Edinburgh!

Special Issue: Adjective order through a Germanic lens

The journal Linguistics just published a new Special Issue on adjective order in Germanic languages, edited by Andreas Trotzke and Eva Wittenberg:

https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/ling.2019.57.issue-2/issue-files/ling.2019.57.issue-2.xml

Contents:

  • Andreas Trotzke and Eva Wittenberg: Long-standing issues in adjective order and corpus evidence for a multifactorial approach
  • Elnora ten Wolde: Linear vs. hierarchical: Two accounts of premodification in the of-binominal noun phrase
  • Kristin Davidse and Tine Breban: A cognitive-functional approach to the order of adjectives in the English noun phrase
  • Ermenegildo Bidese, Andrea Padovan and Claudia Turolla: Adjective orders in Cimbrian DPs
  • Sven Kotowski and Holden Härtl: How real are adjective order constraints? Multiple prenominal adjectives at the grammatical interfaces

Definitely, maybe: New paper in Journal of Pragmatics

Judith Degen, Andreas Trotzke, Gregory Scontras, Eva Wittenberg, Noah D. Goodman (2019): Definitely, maybe: A new experimental paradigm for investigating the pragmatics of evidential devices across languages. Journal of Pragmatics 140, pp. 33-48.

Abstract: We present a new experimental paradigm for investigating lexical expressions that convey different strengths of speaker commitment. Specifically, we compare different evidential contexts for using modal devices, epistemic discourse particles, and statements with no evidential markers at all, examining the extent to which listeners’ interpretations of certain types of evidential words and their judgments about speaker commitment differ in strength. We also probe speakers’ production preferences for these different devices under varying evidential circumstances. The results of our experiments shed new light on distinctions and controversies that play a key role in the current theoretical literature on the semantics and pragmatics of modals and discourse particles. Our paradigm thus contributes to a domain of experimental research on evidential expressions that is only just taking shape at the crossroads of theoretical semantics/pragmatics and psycholinguistics; we provide a potential starting point for approaching theoretical debates on the nature of modal evidential expressions from an experimental and context-oriented perspective.