Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft


Das Oberseminar bietet Vorträge von eingeladenen Referenten oder Kollegen aus der Abteilung an. Die Referenten stellen aktuelle Forschungsergebnisse zu allen für die allgemeine und theoretische Linguistik relevanten Bereichen vor. Jeder ist herzlich eingeladen. Studierende werden besonders ermutigt, teilzunehmen, um forschungsbezogene Vorträge von Spezialisten aus erster Hand zu erleben.

In diesem Semester findet das Oberseminar montags um 16:15 Uhr im Seminar für Sprachwissenschaft in der Wilhelmstraße 19, Raum 1.13 statt.

Wintersemester 2019/2020

03. Februar

Ralf Vogel (Universität Bielefeld)

20. Januar

Elke Teich (Universität des Saarlandes)

13. Januar

Natasha Korotkova (Universität Konstanz)

16. Dezember

Chundra Cathcart (Universität Zürich)

25. November

Johanna Nichols (University of California, Berkeley)

28. Oktober

Elnaz Shafaei-Bajestan

Title: Error-driven Learning in Modeling Spoken Word Recognition

Abstract: Effective linguistic communication relies on the recognition of words (McQueen, 2007). Although spoken word recognition (SWR) is a vital task in speech comprehension, psycholinguists are still debating some fundamental assumptions decades after the first cognitive theories of SWR (Marslen-Wilson and Welsh, 1978) and initial computational modelings (McClelland and Elman, 1986; Norris, 1994). I present the current state of two projects in which we investigated the theory of error-driven learning, outlined by Rescorla and Wagner (1972) for animal and human learning, as a theory of SWR. Computational modelings of a excised word recognition task were carried out using the naive discriminative learning (NDL) and the linear discriminative learning (LDL) frameworks. First, Arnold et al. (2017) and Shafaei-Bajestan and Baayen (2018) applied NDL-based models that iteratively learn to classify German and English words, respectively, from their acoustic representations and reported model performance comparable to human performance. Second, Baayen et al. (2019) estimated the linear mappings between words’ feature vectors and the words’ semantic vectors directly and achieved superior accuracy in recognition of words compared to NDL. Assumptions in the models, issues in model implementation, initial results, and plans for future work are discussed.

Sommersemester 2019

29. April

Slawomir Wacewicz

Title: Linguistic politeness as strategic behavior: (some) costs and benefits of polite language use

Abstract: Behavioral ecology explains the behavior of animals by treating them as rational agents driven by a maximisation of their benefit-cost differentials. On the uncontroversial assumptions that humans are animals, and that speaking is a type of behavior, this overall approach should - at least in principle - generalise to language use: it should be possible to understand speakers as “rational decision-makers who make tradeoffs between costs and benefits”. 
Despite the obvious difficulties involved in determining both the relevant types behavior (language use) and the relevant costs and benefits, there has been some success in applying this reasoning to “pockets” of linguistic behavior such as indirect speech (Pinker, Nowak & Lee 2006) or politeness (Quinley 2012). Most recently, the Responsibility Exchange Theory (RET; Chaudhry and Loewenstein 2019) effectively provides a proof of concept of this general approach for a narrow class of dyadic interactions (assignment of responsibility for a positive/negative outcome): it establishes functional classes of linguistic behavior (apologising, thanking) and works out a compelling theory of the associated social costs/benefits. In my talk, I build on the conceptual foundation proposed by Chaudhry and Loewenstein (2019) and look into ways of extending their approach.

06. Mai

Judith Tonhauser

Title: Factive presuppositions? An empirical challenge

Abstract: A long-standing and widely-held assumption is that the content of the complement of factive predicates like “know” is presupposed whereas that of non-factive predicates like “think” is not. There is, however, disagreement in the literature about which properties define factive predicates and whether the contents of the complements of particular predicates exhibit the properties attributed to factive predicates. The resulting disagreement about which predicates are factive is troublesome because the distinction between factive and non-factive predicates has played a central role in the study of presuppositions. This talk, which is based on joint work with Judith Degen (Stanford University), investigates properties of the contents of the complements of clause-embedding predicates with the goal of understanding how such predicates can be classified. We argue that predicates presumed factive are more heterogeneous than previously assumed and that there is little empirical support for the assumed categorical distinction between factive and non-factive predicates. We conclude by discussion the implications for future research on and analyses of presuppositions and other projective content.

20. Mai

Uta Reinöhl

Title: Why do we have to say certain things? On the obligatorification of dependents

Abstract: A common feature of the grammaticalization of function words is that they develop the requirement for obligatory dependents. For instance, English the does not occur except when followed by a nominal construction. This talk offers an account of the historical development of obligatorification - how dependents develop from optional extras to required accompaniments. I will show how the process leading to obligatorification is driven by universal communicative requirements. In this sense, the development in question sets in before grammaticalization “proper”, rather than being a result of grammaticalization as has been widely (if only implicitly) assumed. In fact, specific semantic structures create the need for overt hosts at every synchronic stage of every language. Only rarely does this requirement for an overt dependent develop into a syntactic requirement as a result of grammaticalization. I illustrate this with both diachronic and synchronic examples from diverse parts of speech that stem from several languages.

27. Mai

Hans Kamp

Title: Pronouns, Descriptions, Bridging

Abstract: Recent work on coreference and non-coreference anaphora makes no clear distinctions between different kinds of non-coreference anaphora and also seems to imply that coreference anaphora is a special kind of non-coreference anaphora. In this talk I take a closer look at the interpretation processes for anaphoric pronouns and definite descriptions from an interpretation-theoretic perspective. I identify three strategies for the interpretation of pronouns and descriptions. The first strategy always leads to coreference, the second can produce coreference effects and the third normally does not, although it may involve coreference in certain special cases. None of these three strategies can be reduced to either of the two others.

The formal framework in which the investigation is conducted is a version of DRT in which definite noun phrases (definite descriptions and pronouns among them) are treated as triggers of ‘identification presuppositions’ – presuppositions whose resolution identifies the referents of their triggers. The framework makes it possible to describe the strategies in precise and unambiguous terms and to ask precise questions about the ways they are related. A good part of the talk will be devoted to discussing this approach to the semantics and pragmatics of definite noun phrases and to showing how it works for anaphoric pronouns and descriptions.

Time permitting, we will have a look at a potential problem for the analysis: English descriptions with head nouns that denote ‘inalienable relations’, like the mouth, the father, the weight. Given the definition of bridging I will be using these descriptions ought to be perfect bridging descriptions. But in fact they are not. For instance, in normal contexts the sentence ‘No one mentioned the weight’ can’t be understood as meaning that no one mentioned his or her own weight. Nor can in most contexts: ‘Susan grew up like an orphan. She never even met the father’ be used felicitously to say that Susan never met her own father). The solution of this puzzle has to do with the different processes that are available for reinterpreting relational nouns as non-relational and non-relational nouns as relational.

17. Juni

Matthias Pache
Title: Linguistic diversity within Chibchan
Chibchan languages are spoken at the very heart of the Americas, on the isthmus connecting both continents and in adjacent regions (Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia). Among the language families of Central and South America, the Chibchan family is particularly diverse in typological terms (Adelaar 2007). For instance, the Rama language of Nicaragua has only three phonemic vowels, /a/, /i/, /u/ (Craig 1989: 37), whereas Bribri (Costa Rica) has fourteen (Chevrier 2017: 56). In the domain of verbal person marking, some Chibchan languages use unbound elements, whereas others use prefixes, suffixes, or both (Pache 2015). This talk aims to discuss the following questions: (1) which are the domains of particular variability/relative uniformity within Chibchan? (2) What could have been factors triggering family-internal variability?

08. Juli

Eva Wittenberg
Title: Presuppositions, scales, and adjective order
Abstract: Many accounts of language assume that communication is inherently Gricean, and thus that contextually enriched meanings depend in part on a sensitivity to speaker states. However, current models of how core semantic phenomena interact with context often ignore speaker-specific information. For example, in the case of gradable adjectives, research on this topic has mainly focused on the role of extra-linguistic context, such as the distribution of a feature across a domain, or informativeness.
Here, we ask whether, in addition to statistical distributions, listener’s standards of comparison for adjectives are also sensitive to thresholds communicated by (a) existential presuppositions, to investigate whether listeners accommodate individual differences, and (b) different adjective orderings, to test whether the compositional operations involved in understanding AAN-sequences can help comprehenders decide whether scalar thresholds are affected by the speaker’s statements. The results are jointly informative for recent discussions of scalar vs. absolute adjectives, the question of how scalar thresholds are computed, and the compositional semantics of multi-adjective sequences.

15. Juli

Hizniye Isabella Boga
Title: The languages of Italy - Measuring the similarity between close and distant varieties
Abstract: One of the oldest questions in dialectology is how to define a “language” as opposed to a “dialect” (Gooskens 2018). The theoretical definition of a language as the standardised form and dialects as sub-categorical varieties of “inferior” character have been assumed for a very long time. Only with J. K. Chambers and Peter Trudgill’s introduction of the definition “language as a collection of mutually intelligible dialects”, an equality of varieties was emphasised.
The task of my thesis research revolved around measuring distances and similarities of 58 Romance varieties with a focus on the Italian varieties. The goal is to determine which varieties are closer to each other and can hence be seen as dialects of the same language or whether they are distant enough to be considered independent languages.
The methods at hand are the Levenshtein Distance Normalized Divided (LDND) and the Needleman-Wunsch algorithm Normalized Divided (NWND) with a built-in scorer system of PMI distances. With the resulting distances and similarities determined by the LDND and the NWND method, I used a model-based clustering method to allocate similar varieties into one cluster, dissimilar varieties into another cluster and varieties of mixed and unclear affiliation into a further one. Within those clusters, it is visible which varieties are close enough to be varieties of the same language and which varieties are distant enough to be independent languages.

Wintersemester 2018/2019

12. November

George Walkden (Konstanz)

Title: Proto-Indo-European: a language without Merge?

Abstract: here

03. Dezember

Ekaterina Rakhilina, Tatiana Reznikova (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow)

Title: Lexical typology: an introduction to the frame approach

17. Dezember

Jakub Szymanik (University of Amsterdam)

Title: Ease of learning explains semantic universals

Abstract: Despite extraordinary differences between natural languageslinguists 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.

Paper: Steinert-Threlkeld & Szymanik - Learnability and semantic universals  
              Steinert-Threlkeld & Szymanik - Ease of Learning Explains Semantic Universals


14. Januar

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

28. Januar

Torgrim Solstad (ZAS Berlin)

Title: Predictive Language Processing: The View from Implicit Causality

Prediction in language (Kamide 2008; DeLong et al. 2014), whereby we understand the incorporation of possible (and likely) future information states into processing, still hasn't attracted much attention in theoretical linguistics despite the central status of prediction in human cognition (Bubic et al. 2010; Clark 2013). Bringing together insights from experimental and theoretical research for one particular phenomenon, Implicit Causality, I want to argue that much could be gained by attempting to bridge this gap.
Implicit Causality verbs (e.g. Garvey/Caramazza 1974; Brown/Fish 1983) have been at the core of psycholinguistic research on predictive processing. Selecting for two animate arguments, such verbs display a strong preference for an explanation focusing on one argument, as shown in numerous sentence continuation experiments:

(1) JOHN annoyed Mary because... HE was rude.

(2) John admired MARY because... SHE was clever.

Although there is good evidence as to the processing profile of Implicit Causality, its predictive nature is still insufficiently understood. Some important questions include:

- What is predicted: Is it a particular word (e.g. HE/SHE in (1)/(2)), a referent, or a type of explanation (e.g. a property of John's in (1), and one of Mary's in (2))?
- What triggers the prediction: Is it encoded in lexical semantics (annoy/admire in (1)/(2)) or part of world knowledge?

Based on a formal-semantic theory of Implicit Causality (Bott/Solstad 2014), results from previous experimental research (e.g. Koornneef/van Berkum 2006; Pykkönen/Järvikivi 2010; Featherstone/Sturt 2010) and recent insights into the nature of predictive processing in general (e.g. Kuperberg/Jaeger 2016; Yan et al. 2017), I will propose a framework for predictive processing of Implicit Causality. By bringing together insights from theoretical and experimental research, we can delineate more precisely the top-down and bottom-up processes generating and validating predictions: Which linguistic levels are involved and how do they interact?
Although limited to one particular phenomenon, I contend that approaching predictions in this manner has the potential to mutually benefit both psycholinguistics and theoretical linguistics. On the one hand, a number of aspects concerning prediction processes may be better understood if they are based on more elaborate theoretical linguistic analysis, if only for constraining the possible hypothesis space, thus allowing for more precise experimental predictions and better control of experimental design and materials. On the other hand, research on prediction extends an invitation to reconsider or expand theoretical linguistic assumptions to accommodate the results obtained in experimental research, potentially offering a broader empirical base for linguistic studies, connecting phenomena previously assumed to be unrelated.

Sommersemester 2018

18. Juni

Katja Jasinskaja (Cologne)

Title: Attachment in syntax and discourse: Towards an explanation of the variable scope of non-restrictive relatives

Abstract: here

2. Juli

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.

9. Juli

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.