word order

Effects of phonological overlap on fluency, speech rate, and word order in unscripted sentence production

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The last two papers based on Katrina Furth’s and Caitie Hilliard’s work back when they were at Rochester just came out in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition and the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The JEP:LMC paper investigates how lemma selection (i.e., word choice) is affected by phonological overlap. We find evidence for a (weak) bias against sequences of phonologically onset overlapping words. That is, when speakers have a choice, they seem to prefer sentences like “Hannah gave the hammer to the boy”, rather than “Hannah handed the hammer to the boy”. This suggests very early effects of phonology on lexical production, which seem to be incompatible with strictly serial models of word production.

Jaeger, T. F., Furth, K., and Hilliard, C. 2012. Phonological overlap affects lexical selection during sentence production. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 38(5), 1439-1449. [doi: 10.1037/a0027862]

The Frontiers paper investigates Read the rest of this entry »

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Language is shaped by brain’s desire for clarity and ease

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Congratulations to Masha Fedzechkina on her article on a bias for efficient information transfer during language learning that has just appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (link to article).

Here’s some news coverage

More to come soon.

Errata: We are sorry that in our paper we forgot to acknowledge the help of three undergraduate research assistants, Andy Wood, Irene Minkina, and Cassandra Donatelli, in preparing the video animations used during our artificial language learning task.

The serial founder hypothesis and word order universals

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Check out this article in ScienceNews summarizing commentaries on two recent language studies in Science (Atkinson, 2011: ) and Nature (Dunn et al., 2011). Each of the studies has received a lot of attention and they are the subject of two special issues in press for Linguistic Typology, to which HLP Lab contributed on three articles. I will add a link to the special issue(s) once it comes out. Read the rest of this entry »

Word order and case marking in language acquisition and processing (LSA poster and CogSci paper)

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We presented the results of our artificial language learning study on the use of case-marking and word order as cues in processing and learning at the LSA annual meeting. This is work done with Florian Jaeger and Elissa Newport. We investigated whether functional pressures (e.g., ambiguity reduction) operate during language acquisition, biasing learners to (subtly) deviate from the input they receive. Our results suggest that language learners indeed have a bias to reduce uncertainty (or ambiguity) in the input language: The learners are more likely to fix the word order if a language does not have case. See the image below for the details of the study or download the poster as a pdf here. Feedback welcome!

Update 11/29/11: This work was published in the 2011 CogSci Proceedings as

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.

Two nice resources to find the language of your choice

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I was just reading Haspelmath’s post on the CyberLingBlog in reply to a summary of a recent talk by Newmeyer. Most of you probable know the World Atlas of Languages, which allows you to browse through language and linguistic properties, view their distributions over beautiful maps, and contains nice introductory articles to many typological features. It’s very well structured and gives you references for each language, too. Here’s a link to a page on a specific language, Polish.

There is another database that I didn’t know about which let’s you browse or search a (as of yet rather small set of) languages for morpho-syntactic properties: Syntactic Structures of the World’s Languages. Properties are defined in a pragmatic and manageable way. For example, SVO is defines allowing that order in a “neutral” context. The definition also makes clear that SVO can be “yes”, while other word order features are “yes”, too.

It seems that you can even contribute to this database by entering your own data (though maybe you need to apply?), including examples with glosses. Looks interesting. The usual caveats apply, but great that someone is trying! Aside of this project I remember only one similar project that someone at the University of Vienna started while I was an undergrad …  but as far as I remember that never reached critical mass.

If anybody knows of similar databases out there, feel free to post them below. Or even better: contribute to the CyberLingBlog. Everybody is invited.

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.