corpus-based

Some thoughts on Healey et al (2014) failure to find syntactic priming in conversational speech

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In a recent PLoS one article, Healey, Purver, and Howes (2014) investigate syntactic priming in conversational speech, both within speakers and across speakers. Healey and colleagues follow Reitter et al (2006) in taking a broad-coverage approach to the corpus-based study of priming. Rather than to focus on one or a few specific structures, Healey and colleagues assess lexical and structural similarity within and across speakers. The paper concludes with the interesting claim that there is no evidence for syntactic priming within speaker and that alignment across speakers is actually less than expected by chance once lexical overlap is controlled for. Given more than 30 years of research on syntactic priming, this is a rather interesting claim. As some folks have Twitter-bugged me (much appreciated!), I wanted to summarize some quick thoughts here. Apologies in advance for the somewhat HLP-lab centric view. If you know of additional studies that seem relevant, please join the discussion and post. Of course, Healey and colleagues are more than welcome to respond and correct me, too.

First, the claim by Healey and colleagues that “previous work has not tested for general syntactic repetition effects in ordinary conversation independently of lexical repetition” (Healey et al 2014, abstract) isn’t quite accurate.

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Is my analysis problematic? A simulation-based example

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This post is in reply to a recent question on in ling-R-lang by Meredith Tamminga. Meredith was wondering whether an analysis she had in mind for her project was circular, causing the pattern of results predicted by the hypothesis that she was interested in testing. I felt her question (described below in more detail) was an interesting example that might best be answered with some simulations. Reasoning through an analysis can, of course, help a lot in understanding (or better, as in Meredith’s case, anticipating) problems with the interpretation of the results. Not all too infrequently, however, I find that intuition fails or isn’t sufficiently conclusive. In those cases, simulations can be a powerful tool in understanding your analysis. So, I decided to give it a go and use this as an example of how one might approach this type of question.

Results of 16 simulated priming experiments with a robust priming effect (see title for the true relative frequency of each variant in the population).
Figure 1: Results of 16 simulated priming experiments with a robust priming effect (see title for the true relative frequency of each variant in the population). For explanation see text below.

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Celebrating Tom Wasow: A Festschrift

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At this year’s CUNY Sentence Processing Conference, Emily Bender and Jennifer Arnold presented a Festschrift celebrating Thomas Wasow. Here’s what the publisher’s site (CSLI) says (picture taken from the publisher’s website, which is hopefully ok; see the book for copyrights):

This book is a collection of papers on language processing, usage, and grammar, written in honor of Tom Wasow to commemorate his career on the occasion of his 65th birthday. Tom is a professor of linguistics and philosophy. But more accurately, he is a renaissance academic, having done work that connects with many different disciplines, including formal linguistics, sociolinguistics, historical linguistics, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, and philosophy. Appropriately, this book reflects the diversity of Tom’s research and interests, including topics from multiple branches of linguistics and human information processing. These papers are written with minimal background assumed, so they can be used as teaching materials for beginning scholars. As such, this volume is a tribute to what is perhaps Tom’s most lasting contribution to the field—the mentorship and inspiration he provided to his students and collaborators, many of whom have contributed to this volume.

The book contains introductory and overview articles on a variety of topics in cognitive science from Emily M. Bender, Dan Flickinger, Stephan Oepen, Ash Asudeh, Peter Sells, Amy Perfors, James Paul Gee, John R. Rickford, T. Florian Jaeger, Jennifer E. Arnold, Harry J. Tily, Neal Snider, John A. Hawkins, and Susanne Riehemann.

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