Colloquium Today (4/4) at 3:30 PM: Tonhauser

Judith Tonhauser (OSU Linguistics/Stanford CASBS) will give a colloquium today, Friday April 4 at 3:30 PM in the Greenberg Room, with dinner to follow.

What it means to be alone: The role of the Question under Discussion in the Interpretation of Paraguayan Guaraní exclusives

Abstract: A fundamental principle in research on meaning is that the meaning of an utterance is determined as a function of the meaning of its parts, the way the parts are put together and the context in which the utterance is made. Over the past thirty or so years, formal research on meaning has identified several different ways in which context affects interpretation and that, in fact, context-dependence may be built into the lexical meanings of natural language expressions. In this talk, I illustrate the context-dependence of utterance meanings by exploring the interpretation of Paraguayan Guaraní utterances with the exclusive enclitics “=nte” ‘only’ and “=año” ‘alone’ and I argue that the interpretation of utterances with “=año” ‘alone’ depends on context in a way not previously recognized for exclusives in other languages. In particular, I argue that the Question under Discussion not only serves to constrain the associate of the exclusive (Beaver & Clark 2008, Roberts 2011) or to impose conditions on the acceptability of the exclusive (Coppock & Beaver in press), but also contributes to the identification of the property that is exclusively attributed to the associate. As a consequence, utterances with “=año” ‘alone’ can convey a broader range of meanings than e.g. those with English “alone”.

Gumperz Memorial Today at Berkeley Alumni House

A memorial honoring UC Berkeley’s Professor Emeritus John Gumperz will take place from 1:00 – 6:00 Friday, April 4 in UC Berkeley’s Alumni House.

Meghan Sumner Promoted

Meghan Sumner has been promoted to Associate Professor with tenure. Congratulations, Meghan!

QP Fest April 25: Save the date!

Our annual QP Fest will be the afternoon of Friday, April 25. Stay tuned for all the details in an upcoming issue.

Sociolunch This Spring!

Please join us for Sociolunch this quarter, every Wednesday at 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM in the Greenberg Room. (Note the new time!).

To start the quarter off, this Wednesday, April 9, Mark Myslín (UCSD, his page here) will be sharing about his work on codeswitching in Czech-English bilinguals. All are welcome! His abstract is given below.

Codeswitching and predictability of meaning in discourse

Abstract: Codeswitching is often not a simple matter of lexical gap-filling, instead depending on sociolinguistic and discourse functions. We hypothesize that such variation is affected by meaning predictability: codeswitches correlate with meanings of low predictability, allowing language choice to be a formal marker of information content along with familiar means such as prosody and syntax. More generally, we argue for the importance of communicative and social context in understanding linguistic variation, and for rigorous approaches in the analysis of natural discourse data.

In grammatical choice, speakers often convey less predictable meanings with distinct, extensive encodings. In bilingual discourse, a similar division of labor is possible: less predictable meanings can be more saliently encoded through a switch to the less frequently used language. In our corpus of three hours of Czech-English conversation, most switches were to English at points of less predictable meanings. To quantify this, we developed a guessing game (Shannon, 1951) in which new participants listened to full conversations and guessed missing words. With 3,458 guesses across 725 items, concepts that had been expressed through English switches were indeed more difficult to guess. Meaning predictability was a key factor in a logistic regression with 12 control factors from sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic, and discourse-functional traditions.

Codeswitching allows salient encoding of high-information meanings, but unlike phonetic or syntactic reduction of low-information content, the strategy is not more temporally efficient for the speaker. This, especially given our comprehender-based metric of information, supports an account in which language choice functions to draw comprehender attention to novel information.

SMircle Workshop Meeting Monday (4/7) at 4PM: Levin

SMircle workshops will kick off the quarter this Monday, where our own Beth Levin will talk about her work on hitting verbs.

The Encoding of Hitting Events across Languages

The encoding of hitting events has not received systematic crosslinguistic investigation, even though hitting verbs have long provided a effective counterpoint to the much-studied breaking verbs since Fillmore’s (1970) well-known case study, “The Grammar of Hitting and Breaking”. This talk aims to redress the balance. I present the results of an ongoing survey of the encoding of hitting events across languages and discuss its contribution to our understanding of the principles that govern the encoding of events in language. I show that two factors underlie the attested encodings of hitting events: (i) the choice that a language makes concerning where to encode the manner component of the event and (ii) whether to treat the surface argument (e.g. “the window” in “hit the window”) as an affected argument eligible for realization as direct object. In fact, Beavers, Levin & Tham (2010) make a similar point with respect to motion events, proposing that differences among languages in the encoding of such events can be traced to the interaction of crosslinguistically applicable argument realization principles with language-specific lexical and morphosyntactic resources.

Stephanie Shih’s Dissertation Submitted

Stephanie Shih has submitted her dissertation Towards Optimal RhythmCongratulations, Stephanie!

Former Stanford Ling Undergrads Receive NSF Fellowships

Isaac Bleaman and Cybelle Smith, both former linguistic majors at Stanford, were recently awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships.