HLP Lab at the LSA and congratulations to Judith Degen and Masha Fedzechkina

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Congratulations to Judith Degen and Masha Fedzechkina for having their two abstracts be among only twelve selected to be “media-worthy” by LSA reviewers:

  • Degen, J. and Jaeger, T. F. 2011.  Speakers sacrifice some (of the) precision in conveyed meaning to accommodate robust communication. Talk to be presented at the 2011 Meeting of the LSA.
    • Session: Pragmatics II  31
    • Room: Le Batea
    • Time: Friday 2pm

The process of encoding an intended meaning into a linguistic utterance is well-known to be affected by production pressures. We present corpus data suggesting that the choice between even two seemingly non-meaning-equivalent forms as in (1a) and (1b) can be affected by speakers’ preference to distribute information uniformly across the linguistic signal (Uniform Information Density (UID), Jaeger 2006). This suggests that even when two forms do not encode the same (but a similar enough) message, speakers may sacrifice precision in meaning for increased processing efficiency.

(1a) Alex ate some chard.
(1b) Alex ate some of the chard

  • Fedzechkina, M., Jaeger. T. F. , and Newport, E. 2011. Word order and case marking in language acquisition and processing. Poster to be presented at the 2011 Meeting of the LSA.
    • Session: Language Acquisition/Psycholinguistics/Syntax
    • Room: Grand Ballroom Foyer
    • Time: 9:00 – 10:30 AM.

To understand a sentence, comprehenders must identify its actor and patient. In principle, these relationships can be signaled using a single cue, but most languages employ several redundant cues, including word order and case marking. In artificial language learning experiments we investigate word order and case as cues in processing and learning. In languages without case marking, learners regularize word order; but when case marking is present, it is favored and limits word order regularization. Case-marking comes with a disadvantage: it is more complex to acquire. But the present results suggest that this may be outweighed by clarity for processing.

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Psycholinguistics in the field, CUNY Sentence Processing poster

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We presented the results of the animacy and accessibility study on Yucatec on March 18, 2010 at the CUNY Sentence Processing Conference in New York (see image below, or download the poster pdf file here: CUNY 2010 Sentence Processing poster Yucatec. See poster pdf file for additional data, abbreviations and references). We encountered a lot of support for our project and a lot of enthusiasm for continuing research. Soooooooo, stay tuned for more production studies on Yucatec to be carried out this summer.

Follow-up experiments on sentence production in Yucatec

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Elisabeth Norcliffe, Katrina Housel, Juergen Bohnemeyer and I have been working on the next step in our investigations of Yucatec sentence production (see previous post). Some people have asked for more detail on the design and material and we definitely appreciate the feedback.

We started designing a series of experiments on Yucatec word order and voice choices, focusing on accessibility effects (such as the relative animacy of the agent and patient in a transitive event) trying to find evidence that distinguishes between alignment and availability accounts of accessibility effects (or provides evidence that both mechanisms are found). Due its typological features, in particular the available word orders and the way voice is marked (morphologically, without necessarily requiring word order changes), Yucatec seems perfect to test whether more accessible referents are order first (availability), aligned with the subject function (alignment, as expressed in Bock, 1986), or whether structural choices (such as a passive over an active) indicated marked or unmarked alignment between grammatical or semantic function with the relative salience of the involved referents.

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