Optional plural-marking in Yucatec

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After many years of data collection, translation, annotation, and analysis, our first longer paper based on our field-based studies of language production in Yucatec Maya is about to appear in print:

The paper discusses speakers’ production preferences in optional plural-marking on nouns and verbs in Yucatec. Yucatec plural-marking is typologically interesting in that there seem to be environments in which plural-marking on either or even both the noun and verb can be omitted without loss of plural meaning.

Lindsay Butler’s thesis (at the University of Arizona) focused on the syntactic theory behind optional plural-marking in Yucatec and what it tells us about the typology of plural-marking. If you’re interested in this topic, you might also find the following article of interest, which provides a broader introduction to the relevant grammatical constraints in Yucatec plural-marking. I will add links soon, but in the meantime feel to ask for a copy:

  • Bohnemeyer, J. B., Butler, L. K., and Jaeger, T. F. submitted. Head-marking and agreement: Evidence from Yucatec Maya.

Psycholinguistics in the field 2, CUNY Poster

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And here is one more poster on Yucatec, following Lindsay’s example. This is work by Lis Norcliffe, who just graduated from Stanford and join the MPI in Nijmegen. Her thesis work is on the (possibly resumptive) morphology discussed in this poster and the experiments were part of that thesis, too. You’ll find effects of definiteness and dependency length, which we investigated since they (in our view) provide evidence that this morphological reduction alternation is affected by both a preference for uniform information density and a preference for dependency minimization. Feedback welcome.

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.

Results of animacy and accessibility in Yucatec

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Good news! We’ve analyzed the previously mentioned experiment on animacy and word order in Yucatec. We coded animacy of the Agent and Patient referents (human, animal, inanimate), transitivity (transitive, intransitive) and voice (active, passive, other) of the verb. We also coded the definiteness of the Agent and Patient referents (definite, indefinite).

Overall, Agent-Verb-Patient word order was strongly preferred (see Table 1). Moreover, human subjects were more likely to appear earlier in the sentence (ps<0.0001, interaction n.s., N=597), which is predicted by direct accessibility accounts. Human agents and patients were were more likely to be described as definite (ps<0.0002), and definite NPs showed a tendency to be mentioned earlier (agent: p<0.0001; patient: n.s., interaction p<0.0001). Still, the effect of animacy held independently (ps<0.002; interaction n.s.). The agent animacy effect was somewhat mediated by an effect on transitivity (whether participants described an event as e.g. an apple hitting a man or an apple falling on a man in that inanimate agents were less often described transitively (p<0.0001; no patient effects). The agent animacy effect remained significant even for transitive sentences (p<0.004; no interaction, N=502). In terms of the effects of voice, human agents correlated with the use of active voice (p<0.0001), and human patients correlated with the use of passive voice, though not at strongly (p<0.03, N=604).

Table: Word order and voice

Agent, Patient and Verb of 531 transitives (excluding 161 non-transitives)

Word order Total Active Passive Other
Agent-Verb-Patient 440 427 7 6
Patient-Verb-Agent 63 2 61 0
Other 28 20 7 1

What does this mean? Good news! Interesting results. In Yucatec, the passive voice is encoded by verbal morphology. Passive voice does not presuppose or preclude a word order change. When a patient was human, sentences were more likely to be in the passive voice. Moreover, human patients were more likely to be mentioned earlier. So, we’ve seen the use of passive voice morphology and earlier mention with human patients.

Visiting the Yucatan: more studies on Yucatec Mayan and Mexican Spanish

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Heya. There are no results yet, but Katrina Housel, Carlos Gomez Gallo, and I just came back from the Valladolid, Mexico where we piloted and ran 3 studies on Yucatec and 4 studies on Mexican Spanish.

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Fresh of the press: Preliminary Mayan results … [Norcliffe & Jaeger]

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The orange juice is still warm, the cafe con helado barely melted, the Mexican music that has been playing on repeat for the last couple of hours still swings mind-numbingly in my fried brain (it’s VERY hot and humid here), and here we are: letting you, dear reader [sic], know what the world is waiting for: is there probability-sensitive morphosyntactic production in Yucatec Mayan (similar to English, cf. Frank & Jaeger, 2008-CUNY, 2008-CogSci; Jaeger, 2006-thesis, 207-LSA; Levy & Jaeger, 2007; Wasow et al., in press)? This is a follow-up on a recent post.

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Getting started in Mexico: Contacts & Pilots on Mayan

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As some of you know, we’ve been planning to study certain aspect of language production in Mayan for some time now. Well, planning has been followed by flying, and now we (Elisabeth Norcliffe, Stanford University, and I) are here and ready to run our first studies!

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