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Research at our top-ranked department spans syntax, semantics, phonology, language acquisition, computational linguistics, psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics. 

Connections between our core competencies are strong, with theoretical, experimental and computational work typically pursued in tandem.

A network of collaboration at all levels sustains a research climate that is both vigorous and friendly. Here new ideas develop in conversation, stimulated by the steady activity of our labs and research groups, frequent student meetings with faculty, regular talks by local and invited scholars and collaborations with the broader University of Maryland language science community, the largest and most integrated language science research community in North America.

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Grammaticalized number, implicated presuppositions, and the plural

An experimental study on the meaning and markedness of plural morphology.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Adam Liter
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Adam Liter, Tess Huelskamp, Christopher C. Heffner, Cristina Schmitt
Dates:
Plural morphology exhibits differing interpretations across languages. For example, in downward entailing contexts in English, the plural receives a one or more (or inclusive) interpretation, whereas in Korean-like languages the plural always receives a more than one (or exclusive) interpretation, regardless of context. Previous experimental work using an artificial language suggests that such differences may follow from structural properties of these languages (Liter, Heffner & Schmitt 2017), namely lack of grammaticalization of the plural/singular distinction. In this paper we adopt Sauerland, Anderssen & Yatsushiro’s (2005) implicated presupposition analysis of the plural (the English plural is semantically unmarked, whereas the Korean plural is semantically marked, carrying a presupposition that the cardinality of its referent is greater than one) in order to test two hypotheses about the interpretation of the plural. Using an artificial language learning paradigm identical to that in Liter, Heffner & Schmitt (2017) with non-grammaticalized number but with a much greater frequency of singular/plural NPs in the input, we test (i) whether semantic markedness of the plural should be linked to the non-grammaticalization of the number paradigm; or (ii) whether semantic markedness follows from insufficient statistical evidence for simplifying the lexical entry for the plural. Our results show that participants continue to assign an exclusive interpretation to plural morphology under the scope of negation, which is compatible with the hypothesis that non-grammaticalized number entails semantic markedness.

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The scope of children’s scope: Representation, parsing and learning

What do young children know about quantifier scope?

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Jeffrey Lidz
Dates:
This paper reviews some developmental psycholinguistic literature on quantifier scope. I demonstrate how scope has been used as a valuable probe into children’s grammatical representations, the nature of children’s on-line understanding mechanisms, and the role that experience plays in language acquisition. First, children’s interpretations of certain scopally ambiguous sentences reveals that their syntactic representations are hierarchical, with the c-command relation playing a fundamental role in explaining interpretive biases. Second, children’s scope errors are explained by incremental parsing and interpretation mechanisms, paired with difficulty revising initial interpretations. Third, a priming manipulation reveals that children’s clauses, like those of adults, are represented with predicate-internal subjects. Finally, data on scope variation in Korean reveals that in the absence of disambiguating evidence, parameter setting is an essentially random process. Together, these discoveries reveal how the developmental psycholinguistics of scope has proved a valuable tool for probing issues of grammar, parsing and learning

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Semantic information and the syntax of propositional attitude verbs

The syntactic distribution of mental state verbs, like "think" and "want", is correlated interestingly with their meaning and usage. But what exactly are the correlations? Aaron White reports a statistical study.

Linguistics

Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Aaron S. White
Dates:
Propositional attitude verbs, such as think and want, have long held interest for both theoretical linguists and language acquisitionists because their syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties display complex interactions that have proven difficult to fully capture from either perspective. This paper explores the granularity with which these verbs’ semantic and pragmatic properties are recoverable from their syntactic distributions, using three behavioral experiments aimed at explicitly quantifying the relationship between these two sets of properties. Experiment 1 gathers a measure of 30 propositional attitude verbs’ syntactic distributions using an acceptability judgment task. Experiments 2a and 2b gather measures of semantic similarity between those same verbs using a generalized semantic discrimination (triad or “odd man out”) task and an ordinal (Likert) scale task, respectively. Two kinds of analyses are conducted on the data from these experiments. The first compares both the acceptability judgments and the semantic similarity judgments to previous classifications derived from the syntax and semantics literature. The second kind compares the acceptability judgments to the semantic similarity judgments directly. Through these comparisons, we show that there is quite fine‐grained information about propositional attitude verbs’ semantics carried in their syntactic distributions—whether one considers the sorts of discrete qualitative classifications that linguists traditionally work with or the sorts of continuous quantitative classifications that can be derived experimentally.

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Young children's conception of knowledge

Young children make mistakes in understanding uses of "know." But does that show difficult with the concept of knowledge? Probably not, argues Rachel Dudley.

Linguistics

Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Rachel Dudley
Dates:
How should knowledge be analyzed? Compositionally, as having constituents like belief and justification, or as an atomic concept? In making arguments for or against these perspectives, epistemologists have begun to use experimental evidence from developmental psychology and developmental linguistics. If we were to conclude that knowledge were developmentally prior to belief, then we might have a good basis to claim that belief is not a constituent of knowledge. In this review, I present a broad range of developmental evidence from the past decade and discuss some of the implications it has for the proper analysis of knowledge. The orthodox perspective from the developmental literature was one where children fail to understand belief and knowledge concepts until later in childhood (around 4–5 years of age), with typical asymmetries in belief attribution and knowledge attribution. But what emerges from both a discussion of newer findings and a contextualization of older findings is a picture of development whereby core competence with belief and knowledge concepts emerges much earlier than previously thought (in the first or second year of life) that apparent failures in later childhood may be explained by other aspects of development than conceptual development and that there is no clear evidence that knowledge attributions emerge earlier than belief attributions.

Three-Year-Olds’ Understanding of Desire Reports Is Robust to Conflict

Our mental states don't always depict the actual word: beliefs can be wrong and desires, unsatisfied. Kate Harrigan argues that even 3-year-olds understand this, contrary to some claims, as they understand sentences that describe unsatisfied wants.

Linguistics

Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Kaitlyn Harrigan
Dates:
In this paper, we present two experiments with 3-year-olds, exploring their interpretation of sentences about desires. A mature concept of desire entails that desires may conflict with reality and that different people may have conflicting desires. While previous literature is suggestive, it remains unclear whether young children understand that (a) agents can have counterfactual desires about current states of affairs and (b) agents can have desires that conflict with one’s own desires or the desires of others. In this article, we test preschoolers’ interpretation of want sentences, in order to better understand their ability to represent conflicting desires, and to interpret sentences reporting these desires. In the first experiment, we use a truth-value judgment task (TVJT) to assess 3-year-olds’ understanding of want sentences when the subject of the sentence has a desire that conflicts with reality. In the second experiment, we use a game task to induce desires in the child that conflict with the desires of a competitor, and assess their understanding of sentences describing these desires. In both experiments, we find that 3-year-olds successfully interpret want sentences, suggesting that their ability to represent conflicting desires is adult-like at this age. Given that 3-year-olds generally display difficulty attributing beliefs to others that conflict with reality or with the child’s own beliefs, these findings may further cast some doubt on the view that children’s persistent difficulty with belief (think) is caused by these kinds of conflicts.

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Wait a second! Delayed impact of argument roles on on-line verb prediction

"Those thieves, the police... arrested." That ending makes more sense than would "arrested." But Wing Yee Chow and collaborators show that in real time comprehension, predictions like this take a bit more time than you might expect.

Linguistics

Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Wing-Yee Chow
Dates:
Comprehenders can use rich contextual information to anticipate upcoming input on the fly, but recent findings suggest that salient information about argument roles may not impact verb prediction. We took advantage of the word order properties of Mandarin Chinese to examine the time course with which argument role information impacts verb prediction. We isolated the contribution of argument role information by manipulating the order of pre-verbal noun phrase arguments while holding lexical information constant, and we examined its effects on accessing the verb in long-term semantic memory by measuring the amplitude of the N400 component. Experiment 1 showed when the verb appeared immediately after its arguments, even strongly constraining argument role information failed to modulate the N400 response to the verb. An N400 effect emerged in Experiment 2 when the verb appeared at a greater delay. Experiment 3 corroborated the contrast between the first two experiments through a within-participants manipulation of the time interval between the arguments and the verb, by varying the position of an adverbial phrase. These results suggest time is a key factor governing how diverse contextual information contributes to predictions. Here argument role information is shown to impact verb prediction, but its effect is not immediate.

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The relationship between parsing and generation

Do speaking and comprehension use the same mechanisms in building grammatical structure? Shota Momma and Colin Phillips say Yes.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Colin Phillips
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Shota Momma
Dates:
Humans use their linguistic knowledge in at least two ways: on the one hand, to convey what they mean to others or to themselves, and on the other hand, to understand what others say or what they themselves say. In either case, they must assemble the syntactic structures of sentences in a systematic fashion, in accordance with the grammar of their language. In this article, we advance the view that a single mechanism for building sentence structure may be sufficient for structure building in comprehension and production. We argue that differing behaviors reduce to differences in the available information in either task. This view has broad implications for the architecture of the human language system and provides a useful framework for integrating largely independent research programs on comprehension and production by both constraining the models and uncovering new questions that can drive further research.

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The Minimalist Program after 25 years

What were the original goals of the Minimalist Program, and what are they now? Norbert Hornstein clarifies.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Norbert Hornstein
Dates:
The Minimalist Program (MP) has been around for about 25 years, and anecdotal evidence suggests that conventional wisdom thinks it a failure. This review argues that MP has been a tremendous success and has more than met the very high goals it had set for itself. This does not imply that there is not more to be done. There is, a lot more. But the problems are those characteristic of successful and ongoing research programs. Why the perception of failure? It arises from a misunderstanding concerning the aims of the minimalist project and what, given these aims, it is reasonable to expect. Once we clear up the nature of MP’s goals, we will be better placed to judge (and appreciate) how far it has come.

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Unaccusativity in sentence production

Shota Momma argues that sentence planning in speech production manifests the grammatical distinction between unaccusative and unergative intransitives.

Linguistics

Contributor(s): Colin Phillips
Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Shota Momma, L. Robert Slevc
Dates:
Linguistic analyses suggest that there are two types of intransitive verbs: unaccusatives, whose sole argument is a patient or theme (e.g., fall), and unergatives, whose sole argument is an agent (e.g., jump). Past psycholinguistic experiments suggest that this distinction affects how sentences are processed: for example, it modulates both comprehension processes (Bever and Sanz 1997, Friedmann et al. 2008) and production processes (Kegl 1995, Kim 2006, M. Lee and Thompson 2004, J. Lee and Thompson 2011, McAllister et al. 2009). Given this body of evidence, it is reasonable to assume, as we do here, that this distinction is directly relevant to psycholinguistic theorizing. However, especially in production, exactly how this distinction affects processing is unknown, beyond the suggestion that unaccusatives somehow in- volve more complex processing than unergatives (see M. Lee and Thompson 2011). Here we examine how real-time planning processes in production differ for unaccusatives and unergatives. We build on previous studies on lookahead effects in sentence planning that show that verbs are planned before a deep object is uttered but not before a deep subject is uttered (Momma, Slevc, and Phillips 2015, 2016). (We use terms like deep subject in a theory-neutral fashion, with no intended commitment to a specific syntactic encoding.) This line of research sheds light on the broader issue of how the theory of argument structure relates to sentence production.

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Learning what 'can' and 'must' can and must mean

A single modal auxiliary, such as "can" or "must", can be used to say what is possible or necessary relative to a variety of different grounds: "Sam can't have left the house, because she can't leave before dinner." How do kids figure this out?

Linguistics

Non-ARHU Contributor(s): Ailis Cournane
Dates:
This corpus study investigates how children figure out that functional modals like must can express various flavors of modality. We examine how modality is expressed in speech to and by children, and find that the way speakers use modals may obscure their polysemy. Yet, children eventually figure it out. Our results suggest that some do before age 3. We show that while root and epistemic flavors are not equally well-represented in the input, there are robust correlations between flavor and aspect, which learners could exploit to discover modal polysemy.