The Oberseminar features talks by invited speakers or colleagues from the department. Speakers present current research on any area relevant to general and theoretical linguistics. Everybody is welcome to attend. Students are especially encouraged to attend in order to experience research related talks by specialists first-hand.
This semester the Oberseminar takes place at 16:15 on Mondays at the Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft at Wilhelmstrasse 19, room 1.13.
Jakub Szymanik (University of Amsterdam)
Title: Ease of learning explains semantic universals
Abstract: Despite extraordinary differences between natural languages, linguists have identified
many semantic universals – shared properties of meaning – that are yet to receive a unified
explanation. We analyze universals in a domain of content words (color terms) and a domain of
function words (quantifiers). Using tools from machine learning, we show that meanings
satisfying attested universals are easier to learn than those that are not. Thus, ease of learning
can explain the presence of semantic universals in many different linguistic domains.
Ramon Ferrer i Cancho (Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya)
Title: An emerging theory of word order
Word order is a fascinating phenomenon. During decades, researchers have been collecting many word order regularities that have fed theory. Some of these regularities are the Greenbergian universals of word order, consistent branching or the low number of dependency crossings in the syntactic dependency structures of sentences. Here we will argue these regularities can be regarded as adaptations to the limited resources of the human brain with the help of an emergent theory of word order that provides a unified explanation to word variation and word order change. We will discuss the negative consequences of denying or neglecting the role of functional pressures for the construction of a parsimonious theory of language.
An apetizer: here
Susanne Dietrich (Tübingen)
Title: Processing of presuppositions during speech perception: a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study
Abstract: Discourse structure enables us to generate expectations based upon linguistic materials that has already been introduced. The present functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study addresses auditory perception of test-sentences in which discourse coherence was manipulated by using presuppositions (PSP) that either correspond or fail to correspond to items in preceding context-sentences. Thereby, in- and definite determiners referring to either (non-) uniqueness or (not) existence of an item were used as PSP triggers. Discourse violation within the (non-) uniqueness subset yielded hemodynamic activation within the pre-supplementary motor area (pre-SMA) and bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). Considering the existence subset, these regions occurred only, if subjects accommodated the discourse. These findings indicate involvement of (i) the working memory (IFG) referring the PSP to contextual information and (ii) a regulator (pre-SMA) managing the process of comprehension by signaling detected errors to the system. This enables the system to continue the process of comprehension, for example, by up-dating the context or tolerating slight errors.
Shirley-Ann Rueschemeyer (York)
Title: Perspective taking during language comprehension
Abstract: Humans are constantly engaged in social interactions, and many of these interactions are supported by language. In this talk I will be presenting a series of studies investigating how language and social cognitive mechanisms interact in order to facilitate communication. I will start by showing that embodied lexical-semantic representations are activated by words in a flexible manner that reflects both linguistic and pragmatic constraints. Secondly, I will show the results of studies that suggest that when pragmatic constraints affect semantic processing, this is supported by interactions between neural language and mentalizing systems. Lastly, I will suggest that language comprehension is affected by assumptions we hold about other co-listeners as well as speakers. One key mechanism supporting perspective taking between co-listeners may be simulation. Together the studies presented in this talk provide insight into how high level language and social cognitive processes work in concert during successful communicative acts.