Tag Archives: Semantics

Conference: Quantitative Investigations in Theoretical Linguistics

From March 28 to 31 of next year there will be a conference on Quantitative Investigations in Theoretical Linguistics in Berlin, Germany. The deadline for submissions is November 15, 2010.

Quantitative models of linguistic phenomena have been increasingly informing linguistic theory by testing, confirming and falsifying linguists’ hypotheses, and translating their insights into language based applications. Despite this, the divide between theoretical linguistics and empirical research remains substantial, with many theories being expressed in terms that are not conducive to data-based testing, and conversely, the appearance of a variety of data-based studies and applications with no adequate theory to frame and explain
their results.

Quantitative Investigations in Theoretical Linguistics (QITL) offers a forum for researchers who aim to bridge this gap from any linguistic discipline or methodology, and in particular, but not limited to:

– Quantitative corpus based studies
– Psycholinguistics
– Computational linguistics / NLP
– Historical linguistics
– Lexicography
– Second language acquisition / applied linguistics
– First language acquisition


UIC TiL: Luis López

Join us tomorrow, February 19th, for another installment of UIC Talks in Linguistics.  Our own Luis López will be presenting a talk entitled, “Indefinite objects: Differential object marking, scrambling and choice functions.”

The talk will take place different time than usual, starting at 2pm in 1750 University Hall (601 S. Morgan Street, Chicago, IL 60607).  Join us there for the talk and as always, light refreshments are provided.

Luis López (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Indefinite objects: Differential object marking, scrambling and choice functions

The polyvalent behavior of indefinites has always been a matter of curiosity among linguists. For instance, in (1), the indefinite object ‘a philosopher’ takes scope outside the conditional, suggesting that the scope of indefinites depends on a semantic operation rather than QR (Reinhart 1997, among many others). In (2) we do not know if Mary is looking for any individual that has the properties of being a secretary and speaking German or whether Mary is looking for a specific individual – known to Mary or to the speaker – who we happen to identify by using these properties:

(1) If Bert invites a philosopher, Lud will be angry.
(2) Mary is looking for a secretary that speaks German.

There have been three traditions that have approached the grammar of indefinites. The scholars working in Differential Object Marking (henceforth DOM, see Bossong 1985, Aissen 2003) have connected a piece of morphology
with a specific interpretation. Other linguists (Diesing 1992 in particular) have linked specificity with scrambling. Finally, Reinhart (1997) and many others have argued that indefinite DPs obtain wide scope by means of choice
functions, implicitly denying any role for syntax. Of particular interest for our purposes are the proposals in Chung and Ladusaw (2004), according to which indefinite nominal phrases may combine by means of Restrict (simple
conjunction) or Satisfy (an operation that turns an indefinite object into a choice function variable.). Restrict leads to narrow scope while Satisfy allows a variety of scopes dependent on where the function variable is existentially closed.

In this paper I synthesize the three traditions. The gist of my proposal is shown as follows:

(3)  [vP EA v [aP Obj.dom a [VP V Obj]]]
Satisfy             Restrict

That is, DOM and wide scope of indefinites entail scrambling. The paper will substantiate this claim using data from Spanish, Hindi-Urdu and Persian (Farsi).

The main theoretical contribution of this research project is that it allows us to develop a more nuanced view of the syntax-semantics interface. Diesing and many others argued that syntactic positions are linked to semantic interpretations. I argue that syntactic configuration limits the range of possible modes of semantic composition, which eventually limits the range of possible semantic representations.

Generative SLA Workshop

On January 29th, 2010 UIC will be hosting a Generative Second Language Workshop featuring:

  • Tania Ionin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    “Production and interpretation of articles in second language acquisition”
  • Silvina Montrul, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    “Morphological Errors in L2 Learners and Heritage Language Learners: Missing Surface Inflection or simply experience?”
  • Roumyana Slabakova, University of Illinois
    “The Bottleneck Hypothesis: What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language”

The workshop will take place from 3 PM to 6 PM in Grant Hall 207 (703 South Morgan Street, 60607).

Tania Ionin (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Production and interpretation of articles in second language acquisition

Among the learning tasks faced by second language (L2) learners is to map linguistic form to its corresponding meaning. Recent investigations into L2-acquisition at the syntax/semantics interface have shown that learners face particular difficulties when the form-meaning mappings in the learners’ first language (L1) are different from those in the L2; at the same time, these difficulties are not insurmountable, and L2-learners have been found to exhibit sensitivity to subtle syntax-semantics mappings that are not present in their L1 and not subject to explicit instruction (see Slabakova 2008 for an overview).  The domain of article semantics is one area in which L2-learners have to acquire subtle form-meaning mappings. For example, L2-English learners coming from an article-less L1 (such as Russian or Korean) have to acquire the contrasts between definite, indefinite, and bare (article-less) noun phrases; and L2-English learners coming from an L1 which has articles (such as Spanish) have to reconfigure some aspects of article semantics, for example in the area of generic reference. This talk will report on several experiments probing how L2-English learners from different L1s use and interpret English articles a variety of semantic environments; these experiments aim to tease apart L1-influence from learners’ sensitivity to semantic universals.  The findings show that (i) L1-transfer plays a role in how L2-English learners use and interpret English articles; and (ii) L2-learners are sensitive to subtle contrasts in meaning which are not morphologically marked in their L1, and not subject to (much) classroom instruction, such as the contrasts between specific and non-specific indefinites, and between definite and indefinite generics. It is argued that L2-learners, regardless of their L1, have access to semantic universals through Universal Grammar. Errors with article choice are shown to be due to L1-transfer and to difficulties acquiring language-specific form-meaning mappings, but not to lack of semantic knowledge. Implications of these findings for both semantic theories and theories of L2-acquisition are discussed.

Silvina Montrul (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
Morphological Errors in L2 Learners and Heritage Language Learners:
Missing Surface Inflection or simply experience?

Morphological variability and the source of these errors have been hotly debated in generative approaches to L2 acquisition. A recurrent finding is that postpuberty L2 learners often omit or use the wrong affix for nominal and verbal inflections in oral production, but less so in written tasks. According to the Representational Deficit View (Hawkisn & Chan 1997, Tsimpli and 2007), morphological errors arise from deficits at the level of linguistic representation due to maturational effects. But for the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis (Prévost & White 1999, 2000), L2 learners have intact functional projections and their parameterized features, but errors stem from problems during production only (a mapping or processing problem). Interestingly, inflectional morphology is also a problem area for heritage language speakers, who were exposed to the language earlier in life than the L2 learners. In this talk I compare knowledge of Spanish nominal and verbal morphology in L2 learners and heritage speakers and examine whether these theoretical accounts can be extended to explain the patterns of morphological variability observed in many heritage language learners. The results suggest that while the Missing Surface Inflection Hypothesis correctly characterizes the performance patterns observed in L2 acquisition, it does not correctly describe the performance of the heritage language learners tested in this study. I argue that morphological errors in the two populations seem to be related to the type of experience.

Roumyana Slabakova (University of Iowa)
The Bottleneck Hypothesis: What is easy and what is hard to acquire in a second language

In recent years, the modular view of the L2 acquisition experience and the interlanguage grammar has been gaining in importance. It is no longer controversial to argue that the different components of the L2 grammar may have different sensitive periods of acquisition. This argument is supported by evolving views of the language architecture (Minimalism, Jackendoff 2002). The current emphasis is on the relative difficulty of linguistic features and constructions, as well as on how the language architecture, input properties, and speakers’ processing resources affect developmental sequences. Based on comparison of findings on the L2 acquisition of inflectional morphology, syntax, the syntax-semantics and the syntax-context/discourse interface, the Bottleneck Hypothesis argues that the functional (inflectional) morphemes and their features are the bottleneck of L2 acquisition; acquisition of syntax and semantics (and maybe even the syntax-discourse interface) flows smoothly (Slabakova, 2006, 2008). I will present recent experimental studies supporting this view. I will also discuss a pedagogical implication of this model, namely, that an enhanced focus on practicing grammar in language classrooms will be beneficial to learners.

UIC TiL: Marina Teroukafi

Join us this Friday, January 22nd for TiL’s first talk of the semester: a talk by Marina Terkourafi from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Her talk is entitled, “What is said from different points of view” and will take place in 1750 University Hall (601 South Morgan Street 60607) at 3 PM.

Marina Terkourafi (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
What is said from different points of view

What is said as a theoretical notion was first proposed by Paul Grice in his William James lectures as a way of drawing the line between what a hearer would know upon hearing an utterance based on her knowledge of the language, and what she could further infer based on the fact that an utterance had been uttered in context. Understood as a distinction between truth-conditional and non truth-conditional content, the distinction between ‘what is said’ and ‘what is implicated’ has met with increasing skepticism over the years and with reactions ranging from reformulation (Bach 2001, Camp 2006) to rejection (Carston 1999, Jaszczolt 2005). In this talk, I go over theoretical and empirical arguments that support the need for a neo-Gricean, minimal notion of ‘what is said’.

Bilingualism Labs Around the World: Bangor

We’re starting a new series of posts about bilingualism labs around the world.  Our very first lab is the ESRC Centre at Bangor University.

The ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice (http://bilingualism.bangor.ac.uk/)  was established at Bangor on 1st January 2007 for an initial five-year period, with funding from the ESRC, HEFCW, and the Welsh Assembly Government.

It is the first research centre in the UK to focus specifically on bilingualism. As such it will be part of an international network of similar research centres with whom we would like to interact.

Research within the centre is centred around five research groups: Neuroscience Research Group , Experimental-Developmental Research Group, Corpus-Based Research Group, Survey and Ethnography Research Group, Speech Research Group. There is more information on the work of each of these groups in the following link:


The centre offers both an MA and a PhD in Bilingualism. For more information on our postgraduate programmes go to:


Whether you are a researcher or a practitioner interested in bilingualism, we hope that you will interact with us by visiting, writing, phoning, or attending one of our conferences and workshops. This weekend past (Oct. 2nd-3rd), the centre hosted the first Bangor Postgraduate Conference on Bilingualism and Bimodalism. It is aimed at Masters’ and doctoral level students to come together, present their work and come in contact with new ideas. The main goal of the conference is to establish a forum for postgraduate students interested in all linguistic aspects of Bilingualism and Bimodalism. The area of bilingualism being by definition interdisciplinary, the conference reunites contributions from numerous fields, ranging from linguistics to psychology, education and sociology. English-BSL interpreters will be provided for the duration of the conference to enable Deaf and hearing participants to fully engage in all conference activities. The invited speakers are: Marianne Gullberg (Radboud University Nijmegen and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen), Ineke Mennen (ESRC Centre for Research on Bilingualism in Theory and Practice, Bangor University), and Adam Schembri (Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre (DCAL), Univeristy College London). To see the full conference program, please go to:


At the moment the centre has two calls for funding opportunities: the development fund  (http://bilingualism.bangor.ac.uk//devfund/index.php.en?catid=&subid=7211) and the visiting researcher programme http://bilingualism.bangor.ac.uk//research/VisitingResearchers.php.en?catid=&subid=7237).

If you are interested in bilingualism and in working with us, you can always apply for research associate status. Forms can be found on our website!

UIC TiL: Chris Kennedy

Once again we will be having UICTiL tomorrow, October 2nd from 3 to 5.  Our speaker this week is Chris Kennedy from the University of Chicago.  His talk, entitled ‘Aspectual Composition and Scalar Change’, will take place in 1750 University Hall, 601 S. Morgan Street, Chicago IL 60607.  Feel free to join us at 3 for the talk, with light refreshments being served as always.



Current theories of aspect acknowledge the pervasiveness of verbs of variable telicity, and are designed to account both for why these verbs show such variability and for the complex conditions that give rise to telic and atelic interpretations. Previous work has identified several sets of such verbs, including incremental theme verbs, such as eat and destroy; degree achievements, such as cool and widen; and (a)telic directed motion verbs, such as ascend and descend. As the diversity in descriptive labels suggests, most previous work has taken these classes to embody distinct phenomena and to have distinct lexical semantic analyses. Continue reading

International Conference on Minority Languages in Estonia

In May (28th-30th) there will be the 12th International Conference on Minority Languages (ICML XII) in Tartu, Estonia.  The ICML is hosted by the University of Tartu, but there are colloquia being held by affiliate departments.  One such department is the Department of Modern Philology at the Universitá degli Studi di Firenze, which will be holding a colloquium (themed session) entitled “Language contact and change in multiply and multimodally bilingual minority situations.”

The colloquium deals with bimodal bilingualism approached as a minority language in need of typological standardization and contact-induced grammatical change.

The colloquium’s homepage:


The ICML XII website: